TAMPA — When Bucs coach Greg Schiano put on the tape of tackle Donald Penn from last season, he saw two players. Penn played well early in the season then his performance diminished as his waistline increased.
"Some really good stuff and then some things that were and would be hard to overcome if it happens," Schiano said of his video evaluation. "You know, plays that are hard to overcome for offenses. You can't overcome that stuff in this league — sacks, penalties. I don't think teams are that good. Not consistently. Defenses are too good."
It's no wonder why, after Penn's calf injury felt healed enough for him to resume practicing last week, Schiano and the Bucs were cautious. They wanted to Penn to take an extra week to strengthen his legs, taking more of a load off them.
"I didn't want to rush something," Schiano said. "A calf is an injury that can really be lingering if you're not careful. Plus, we wanted him to be at a weight and a condition level we think he can be effective. It can be a silver lining in this whole thing."
Penn, a Pro Bowl selection in 2010, returned to practice Monday and took his spot as the starting left tackle, replacing Demar Dotson. Penn looked a little rusty, especially in some pass rush drills, but eventually felt his legs under him.
"When you play as much football as I have, being thrown in there should not be a problem," said Penn, 29. "There's still a lot of stuff I've got to get fixed. I've got a lot of catching up to do. I think I'm good on the protections and the run plays. I've been studying a lot in the meetings and stuff. It's just about getting my footwork together. I played super high, which happens everybody's first day. Feet everywhere, just like what happened with everybody's first day.
"But it was good to get some cobwebs off and it was great to be out here with these guys. They set a standard and now I've got to run and catch up."
Penn became injured a few days before training camp while preparing in Los Angeles for the impending conditioning run under Schiano — a series of 16, 110-yard sprints with 45 seconds rest in between.
"It was a freak accident back at home," Penn said. "I was running the conditioning test my last time before I came out here to run and I felt something pull in my calf. That next day, it swelled up real bad and I called the coach the first thing in the morning. Because I'm never hurt. I play through it, it was a little damper and I got through that real fast and am just trying to build on that. You can't be mad and down on yourself. That was one of the first games I missed in the whole year, high school and college."
Dotson, who played only one year of football at Southern Mississippi as a defensive lineman, did a credible job in Penn's absence. On Monday, Dotson also took reps at right tackle.
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"Aside from a couple little mistakes, which happen, I thought he went out there and played great," Penn said of Dotson. "I kept teasing him, 'Are you trying to take my job?' I'm teasing because he did so well. He came out here and answered the call and did a great job."
Penn, listed at 6 feet 5, 340 pounds, spent last week dragging the blocking sled and other weights. Included in the six-year, $43 million contract he signed before the 2010 season is a series of bonus payments tied to staying under 330 pounds and subject to at least three weigh-ins, none in the final month of the season.
Schiano won't say what weight he wants Penn at, but clearly he believes less will be more.
"I don't know if I'm going to get into specific numbers," Schiano said. "He looks good, I think. It's the best I've seen him look by far."