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Offensive linemen hold key to Bucs' draft success

The first time that wide receiver Mike Evans goes into the air for a pass, the first time he outreaches a corner and comes down with a rebound of a catch, you may decide the Bucs draft was okay after all. The first time that tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins bursts past a linebacker and heads toward the open field, the first time he visits the end zone, you may decide that, looking back, it was a good draft. The first time that running back Charles Sims — the Who's-He guy of the Bucs' picks — takes a pass out of the backfield and speeds toward a first down, you may decide this was a very good draft. Ah, but if you are hoping for greatness, if you are hoping for a draft that changes a franchise, then you are left with this: The Bucs need to hit it big on at least one of their offensive linemen. That would make the past weekend a keeper.

As a team, the Bucs need muscle on their offensive line. They need push. They need a little bit of nastiness that has been missing, oh, forever. They need either Kadeem Edwards, the kid from nowhere, or Kevin Pamphile, the kid with almost no experience, to grow into players.

It isn't a new plea. For years, the Bucs have searched for offensive linemen like a prospector sifting through rocks. And, pretty much, what they have turned up are pebbles. At the rare times they have looked through the draft, they have come up with Charles McRae and Kenyatta Walker. They have looked through free agents, and they have found Anthony Munoz and Carl Nicks. They have tried to squeeze a little extra juice out of veterans and wound up with Randall McDaniel and Lomas Brown.

And still, the team has had mostly matadors. Over its history, the team has had Paul Gruber and Tony Mayberry and a bunch of guys featured in the highlight films of Reggie White and John Randle.

This time, it needs to be different. This time, the team needs to forge raw talent into production. Otherwise, the Bucs are simply trying to drive a car without tires.

Remember, one of the first things that the new Bucs administration did after watching last year's game films was to hold their noses at the play of the offensive line. Remember, that was an offensive line that was certainly paid well enough to be competitive. And it wasn't.

So Donald Penn is gone. Davin Joseph is gone. Jeremy Zuttah is gone. Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith are here. Others may find their way here yet.

It is certainly about time the Bucs paid a little attention to the offensive line. For five drafts in a row, they didn't draft a single offensive lineman. Since taking Zuttah in the third round of 2008, they went 44 picks without taking one.

Seeing as how a team plays five of them at a time, that's an eternity of neglect. No wonder the offense has spent years stuck in the mud.

Consider this: Over their 39 drafts, the Bucs spent only six first-rounders and seven second-rounders on the offensive line. And most of those missed badly.

So here we are, paying attention again. The good thing is that every now and then, a team can find nasty offensive linemen in the later rounds. The Saints' Jahri Evans came in the fourth round. The Ravens' Marshal Yanda came in the third. Nicks, quite the player before developing MRSA, was a fifth-rounder.

Have the Bucs found those kinds of players in Edwards and Pamphile?

We'll see.

For years, the Bucs have tried to survive on waiver claims and practice squaders and bandages from across the league. Even in the year they won the Super Bowl, the Bucs offensive line was held together by duct tape and glue.

The thing is, the last offensive line was supposed to be different. It was a unit stacked with millionaires. Nicks made two Pro Bowls with the Saints. Joseph made two with the Bucs. Penn made one.

But Nicks developed an infection, and Joseph got hurt, and things went to the dickens. Again. The offense was awful, and third and 1 turned into the Riddle of the Sphinx.

Nicks is trying to come back. But the Bucs have to take the position that if he can come back, he will be a bonus.

Which leaves us with their draft picks.

Look, when a draft is completed, everyone looks shiny and promising. For crying out loud, Eric Curry looked good the next week. So did Keith McCants, and Dexter Jackson, and Gaines Adams, and Brian Price.

So, yeah, unless you think Lovie Smith is wrong about his quarterback, it's easy to like what the Bucs took away. Granted, Evans has to prove he isn't Michael Clayton, and Seferian-Jenkins has to prove he isn't a higher-rated version of Alex Smith, and Sims has to prove he isn't another Derrick Ward.

For now, however, they're going to make some people in the Bucs' office fairly nervous. If you were Chris Owusu or Skye Dawson, would you send out laundry? If you were Luke Stocker or Tom Crabtree, would you be a little nervous? What if you were Bobby Rainey or Michael Smith? Don't you think the odds just grew a little bit against you?

Then there is Edwards. And Pamphile.

At least one of them needs to be a player.

What other choice is there?

Offensive linemen hold key to Bucs' draft success 05/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 10:12pm]
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