TAMPA — It is, perhaps, the highest-paid unit on the Bucs roster. Its makeup includes two first-round picks, a second-round pick and a couple of Pro Bowl selections.
But none of that seemed apparent when watching the offensive line in Thursday's 31-14 preseason loss to the Patriots.
The Bucs linemen were shoved around and run around by a New England front seven that blitzed mercilessly, something the Bucs didn't plan for because it's the preseason.
Still, when the Bucs re-signed right guard Davin Joseph to a seven-year, $52.5 million contract and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood to a two-year, $10 million deal, they didn't envision quarterback Josh Freeman being so frequently buried by an onslaught of rushers.
And when the Bucs resolved left tackle Donald Penn's holdout last year by awarding him a six-year, $48 million deal, they didn't plan on him being overrun over by Patriots defensive end Andre Carter.
"We have a very experienced group of players," Joseph said. "It's no surprise (when they blitz). We should be able to adjust. We're one of the most experienced groups on this team. We have to go out there and lead by example. We have to go out there and set the tone for our team. We didn't do that."
No, this was in no way the blueprint for offensive success, not when Freeman could barely set his feet in the pocket as a result of the constant pass rush. Freeman finished 5 of 10 for 33 yards. Linebacker Jerod Mayo was particularly bothersome, with several good rushes and a pair of sacks. Mayo, playing only in the first half, finished with five tackles and a pair of pass deflections. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork also hit Freeman after he had released the ball.
Thursday's performance stood in stark contrast to the line's impressive showing in the preseason opener a week ago at Kansas City. In that game, in which the Chiefs sat several defensive starters, the Bucs offensive line gave Freeman plenty of time in the pocket and running lanes were plentiful.
It couldn't have been more different Thursday. The key now is to determine which brand of football the Bucs can expect from this offensive line in the regular season.
"We're going to get this fixed," Penn said. "I'm not about to go south. I'm still positive. We have a long way to go. This is just the second preseason game. That's what preseason is for. I'm glad this happened early."