TAMPA — They were asked to shed pounds for a zone blocking scheme that only weighed down the running game. Their new offensive coordinator melted like a snow cone as a play-caller and was fired 10 days before the season opener.
The quarterback position was a saloon door.
Center Jeff Faine has heard all the excuses why the Bucs' offensive line struggled last season, but he's not buying in.
"I think me and (guard) Davin (Joseph) have had a lot of discussion about this. It's no excuses," Faine said. "It doesn't matter what's thrown at us or the situation we're in. It was a terrible situation to be in last year, but at the same time, it shouldn't affect our play.
"When you're being physical up front and being a physical offensive line, (what happens) outside of the X's and O's doesn't really matter."
For the past four years, Bucs coaches have suggested the strength of their team is the offensive line.
But if that's true, the blame for last season's 3-13 record might have fallen on the line: The Bucs finished 23rd in the NFL in rushing (101.7 yards per game) and tied for third in hits allowed on their quarterback (95).
Since 2005, when the Bucs used a first-round pick on Joseph, the hulking right guard from Oklahoma, and a second-round choice on Jeremy Trueblood, road grater at right tackle from Boston College, Tampa Bay has not finished higher than 11th in the league in rushing.
Of course, despite noble pleas to the contrary, perhaps the offensive line deserves a mulligan for the mess in 2009.
First, former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski was hired as offensive coordinator and quickly installed the zone blocking scheme. That came with a directive for the linemen to lose weight. But Jagodzinski was unable to spit out the plays correctly and was fired shortly before the start of the regular season.
Then Faine was injured in Week 1, and quarterback Byron Leftwich went 0-3 as a starter. And Josh Johnson, who had never started an NFL game, was at the helm as the Bucs lost their next four games.
That led to the forced arrival of franchise quarterback Josh Freeman as a rookie.
"We didn't play well at all," left tackle Donald Penn said. "We all know that. You can ask every person who started on the offensive line, they're going to tell you that. I think it's making us hungrier. We know how good we are, and last year we didn't show it. The year before we showed it a lot more. Every team starts with the O-line, and we've just got to get it going. Everybody in the group is holding each other accountable."
With the exception of former Carolina guard Keydrick Taylor, this is the third season the Bucs offensive line has played together. Penn, Joseph and Trueblood have been in the lineup together since '07.
Penn said the familiarity is starting to pay off.
"There's a lot of times in the group when (offensive line coach) Pete Mangurian doesn't have to say anything," Penn said. "Like the other day, there was a blitz we messed up on and we came off the field, and the five starting offensive linemen were standing there discussing it. And Pete came up and saw what was happening and said, 'Okay, then, you all are good.' When you get that, when you can get together and see where we messed up before the coaches ever get to us, that's what is great."
Still, there is room to improve. Trueblood, for example, knows he has to quit drawing flags.
"I've always wanted to curb the penalties. I needed to work on that, and I have," Trueblood said.
Freeman's thumb injury puts more pressure on the offensive line to protect and produce in the running game, which will feature more man blocking under offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
"I think we have an opportunity to keep defenses off balance a little bit," Faine said. "And with these young receivers we've brought in, and the tight ends that we have, and Josh Freeman coming of age, it opens it up a little more so we're not playing against (an) eight- and nine-man box. The defense has to respect the passing game. So it's something we're feeling good about with what we've got going so far."