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Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive linemen upbeat despite many moves

Jeremy Zuttah (76) already has played center and left guard. Sunday, he will start at right guard.

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Jeremy Zuttah (76) already has played center and left guard. Sunday, he will start at right guard.

TAMPA — Jeremy Zuttah is preparing to play his third different position for the Bucs this season — moving to right guard in place of the injured Davin Joseph — and he's not exactly thrilled about it.

Jeremy Trueblood started 67 consecutive games at right tackle before being sidelined with a knee injury earlier this season. But James Lee played so well in his absence that Trueblood is still on the sideline and probably a bit disappointed, too.

But neither player has lodged a complaint with coaches or grumbled to teammates. That sort of thing doesn't go over well on a unit that has been emblematic of the kind of teamwork the Bucs preach and seek from their players.

Sunday against the Falcons, the Bucs will trot out their sixth starting offensive line combination this season. Only left tackle Donald Penn has gone wire to wire at the same position.

The faces keep changing, but the production hasn't dropped. Equally important, attitudes remain positive.

"We trust that the coaches are going to do what they feel is going to give us the best chance to win," Zuttah said. "If you look at things that way, you can't be upset about it."

Trueblood had an equally rosy assessment.

"We have a lot of good guys on this O line," he said. "We're all friends. And the best part about it is how can you get mad when you still have a job playing a kid's game? We're living a dream. I actually have been able to enjoy things a little more because I'm competing more. It kind of brings back your love for the game a little."

Such attitudes have helped this line overcome its challenges: injuries, position changes, roster moves. Through it all, the line's performance has been steady if not improved.

The Bucs have squeezed so much from this unit in spite of its obstacles by staying true to one of coach Raheem Morris' principles: Competition is a must.

Zuttah began the season splitting time and competing with veteran Keydrick Vincent at left guard, then moved to center when Jeff Faine was injured in Week 4.

Vincent later was released, and Zuttah was expected to take over at left guard after Faine's return. But rookie Ted Larsen burst onto the scene to take the job permanently. Zuttah went on to compete with Larsen for playing time coming off the bench.

Similarly, Trueblood is locked in a battle with career backup Lee at right tackle, where the Bucs haven't committed to a starter for Sunday's game. Lee has shown great promise, but the situation has brought out the best in both players.

"It's about dealing with brutal honesty," Morris said. "(I say), 'I'm going to tolerate you until I can replace you. You have to go out there and compete.' That lets everybody know that we're going out there and we're competing every day for our jobs."

Players have bought in.

"Raheem really means it," Trueblood said. "And it's all out there and up front, so you can't be mad about it."

Zuttah has, arguably, been the key. Without his versatility, the Bucs would have faced a far more daunting situation.

"I would go so far as to say that he's been almost the MVP of this team," Faine said of Zuttah. "For him to be able to move from center to left guard to right guard and really not miss a beat, that just doesn't happen."

The hardest part, Zuttah said, is doing so with limited preparation. But a few weeks ago, offensive line coach Pete Mangurian added left guard to Zuttah's practice workload, and the decision paid off when Joseph broke his foot Sunday.

"It's not like there's a switch you can hit," Zuttah said. "The more reps I get at one place, the more I'll be comfortable."

Meanwhile, the mixing and matching has revealed the Bucs have depth on the offensive line, something few would have suggested before the season. With numerous players forced into the lineup, many have been able to showcase themselves. Faine suggested the team has eight starting-caliber linemen (but just five starting positions).

The Bucs' linemen also possess another quality.

"There's been a lot of men who have shown some character," Morris said. "Those are the guys who last in this league."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive linemen upbeat despite many moves 12/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 2, 2010 11:24pm]
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