One of the strengths of the Bucs is their offensive line. At least that was the perception before last season. But starting left guard Arron Sears missed 2009 with personal problems, and it's unknown whether he will return to form. His backup, Jeremy Zuttah, struggled in his first full year as a starter. And both offensive tackles, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood, will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Penn, who has dropped 35 pounds, is dissatisfied that the Bucs have not signed him to a contract extension and has hinted that he might ask for a trade. On the positive side, the offensive linemen should be helped by not being asked to lose weight this season. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson uses fewer zone-blocking concepts than his predecessor, Jeff Jagodzinski. Remember: The Bucs have franchise quarterback Josh Freeman to protect and can't be certain Penn will return. Left tackles carry a high value in the draft, so it's a position the Bucs could address early.
What they're looking for
Freeman hopes to be under center in Tampa Bay for the next 10 years, so it would help to have a young left tackle to take his mind off the pass rush. Failing that, a left guard or right tackle would be a bonus because the Bucs have little depth at those positions.
Fitting the bill
Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung should be on the board when the Bucs select No. 3 overall, and depending on what happens above them, he is a bigger option than most probably believe. But if the Bucs go in another direction, they can use help at almost any position, including a road-grader like Idaho guard Mike Iupati.
Top 10 prospects
|PLAYER, VITAL STATS||COMMENT|
|Russell Okung T, 6-5, 305, Oklahoma State||Lions are considering him at No. 2.|
|Bryan Bulaga T, 6-6, 314, Iowa||Big Ten offensive lineman of the year.|
|Trent Williams T, 6-5, 316, Oklahoma||Could be a better right tackle in NFL.|
|Mike Iupati G, 6-5, 331, Idaho||Top-rated guard in draft.|
|Anthony Davis T, 6-5, 323, Rutgers||Huge upside but battled weight problems.|
|Maurkice Pouncey C, 6-4½, 304, Florida||Gators center could also play guard.|
|Charles Brown T, 6-5, 303, USC||Converted tight end visited Bucs.|
|Bruce Campbell T, 6-6, 314, Maryland||Started just 17 games in college.|
|Vladimir Ducasse T, 6-5, 330, UMass||Haiti native took up football in 2002.|
|Rodger Saffold T, 6-5, 318, Indiana||Started 41 games at left tackle.|
The Bucs will likely have a shot at one of the draft's premier defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, with the No. 3 pick. If that's the case, expect them to take the defensive lineman. But if both are gone, the decision will be between Okung and Tennessee safety Eric Berry. If USC tackle Charles Brown is still available late in the first round, the Bucs could package some picks together and make a move to grab him.
Correction: Russell Okung played for Oklahoma State. Another school was listed in an earlier version of this story.
Rick Stroud, Times staff writer