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Offensive line might improve ... really

It has become something of a running joke around these parts - the annual futile effort to upgrade the offensive line.

It's a unit that has consistently failed to keep quarterbacks healthy or sustain a running game. Just ask spleenless Chris Simms or Cadillac Williams, who can't seem to get out of park.

But this season, coach Jon Gruden and company believe there will be a different outcome. No one can guarantee that. But one thing that seems inevitable is serious competition for jobs.

Gruden has said the Bucs should have "legitimate competition with NFL players" along the offensive line. That would seem to suggest some of the characters who have masqueraded as linemen in recent seasons weren't "legitimate" NFL players.

The Bucs have what looks to be a solid starting point on the right side with Jeremy Trueblood at tackle and Davin Joseph at guard. Each is entering his second season.

After that, it gets interesting.

Center is no sure thing. Matt Lehr, signed from the Falcons, is working there while John Wade tends to an injury. Dan Buenning, technically a guard, might enter the picture once he completes his rehab from right knee surgery.

At left guard, rookie Arron Sears has given the Bucs something to consider.

"Sears is going to take advantage of Dan Buenning's absence and take a lot of snaps at left guard," Gruden said. "We like him. He's a big, athletic guy, and he's learning our offense very quickly. He's going to make things very interesting inside."

Anthony Davis will get a look there, too. Davis has spent the past two seasons at left tackle, but the team is conducting something of an experiment to see if he's a candidate for guard.

"He's going to compete (somewhere) on the left side," Gruden said.

If he can stay healthy, veteran Luke Petitgout, signed from the Giants, seems the likely choice at left tackle, a position of great concern the past few seasons.

Granted, the Bucs don't have it all figured out. But the good news is, they don't have to - yet. In the meantime, they've discovered they have some options. And compared to the ineptitude we've grown used to around here, that's plenty.

BRYANT NO SURE THING: After working out receiver Antonio Bryant last week, the Bucs still haven't committed to adding another talented player with baggage.

Bryant, who last season caught 40 passes for 733 yards and three touchdowns, was released by the 49ers in March after drawing a four-game suspension from the league for violating the substance-abuse policy and an arrest in November. The five-year veteran pleaded no contest May 11 to reckless driving, was fined and given one year of probation.

He possesses an important quality the Bucs are looking for, but this isn't a slam dunk.

"Speed is a hard thing to coach, and it's a hard thing to acquire," Gruden said. "We're looking for guys who can run, and certainly Bryant is a guy who does possess some speed. But there's no guarantee he's going to be a Buccaneer. It's more of a research situation."

A NICKEL FOR PHILLIP: Look for cornerback Phillip Buchanon to get first crack at nickel back, if offseason workouts are any indication. Buchanon signed a two-year, $5-million contract this offseason, which showed he isn't just another throwaway backup.

He will have to fend off Torrie Cox and, possibly, others. The need for a nickel corner arose when Juran Bolden was released last month.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3377.

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