Last Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 21-0 shutout victory at San Francisco, Bucs left tackle Donald Penn lived every lineman’s dream. Instead of helping others into the end zone, Penn got there on his own with a 1-yard touchdown catch on a play-action pass from quarterback Josh Freeman on a tackle eligible play.
Penn, who hails from Playa Del Ray, Calif., scored his first career touchdown in front of a lot of friends and family as Tampa Bay improved to 2-11 all-time in San Francisco.
“It was great man, it couldn’t have happened any better back at home around all my folks,” Penn said. “I had about 60 people there. It was great.”
Penn got a catch to display his athleticism and his clutch hands on the touchdown catch as the pass was thrown a little out in front and the 6-foot-4, 330-pound left tackle had to extend for it.
“[My hands] are legitimate,” Penn said. “I played basketball my whole life. That was my love. Those hands are legitimate.
“The good thing is Josh is one of the few people who knows how good my hands are. That’s probably won’t ever happen again in my life, but that’s one thing that I’ll never forget. It’s something special. Not too many people are able to do that. … You know me. I’m a humble guy. I’m just happy I got the opportunity and that [offensive coordinator Greg Olson] believed in me. It was fantastic. I loved it.”
So is Penn going to be lobbying to be a regular goal line threat after last Sunday?
“I think we’re going to call that play maybe once per year,” Penn said. “Anytime [opposing defenses] hear me check in they’re going to be on it. It might never happen again, but I’ll be lobbying for it in a couple weeks.”
Penn said the whole key to the surprise play working was containing his excitement after the play was called in the huddle.
“I was just trying to be calm and not walk up to the line with a smile on my face so I wouldn’t give it away,” Penn said. “I was just trying to do everything normal. We knew it was going to be wide open and that’s the least thing they would expect.
“It was crazy, I had about 20-30 text messages right when I got back in the locker room from the game. “One of the good things that came out of it was all those old friends you don’t talk to, they hit you up. It was good to get back in contact with them.”
After scoring his touchdown, Penn was so excited that he threw the ball into the stands. Bucs sideline officials had to retrieve it, but Penn still doesn’t have it.
“My dad has it right now,” Penn said. “It’s back at home, but I will be getting it back soon.”
The touchdown catch may have created headlines, but Penn has been drawing rave reviews for his day job, which is to block for running backs LeGarrette Blount and Cadillac Williams and protect quarterback Josh Freeman.
“He’s playing great,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “I am looking forward to seeing him in a grass skirt. He is playing Pro Bowl caliber football. He is playing lights out and he has earned his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and is certainly going out everyday and earning it. It’s been nice; he is over playing his contract so to speak.”
Penn, who was scheduled to be a free agent in 2011, held out for a new deal during the offseason and was rewarded with a six-year contract extension worth as much as $48 million that he signed on the first day of training camp. On Thanksgiving Day, Penn knows he will have a lot to be thankful for this year.
“I’m thankful for my strong family and this team,” Penn said. “I held out this offseason, and me holding out it didn’t really feel like I was gone. Guys were calling me. I talked with Greg Olson and my O-line coach and Raheem at least once a week. I’m thankful for everything. I’m really in a good spot and I’m blessed. Not too many people can say that. I worked hard and the Lord blessed me.
“We had a turkey drive – me and the offensive line – where we gave out a lot of turkeys,” Penn said. “We have a Christmas drive coming up. We try to do stuff like that to give back. I’m just thankful for so much. This is all starting to come together for me.”
Bucs offensive line coach Pete Mangurian agrees.
“Donald has just applied himself,” said Mangurian. “He had a great offseason, so much of this is a process. Last year is part of this year. It is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time. They’ve grown together as a group. They’ve spent more time together as a group. They talk as a group. You watch them between plays they’re not just standing there. They’re always talking and communicating with each other. That’s how you become good upfront. Those are the steps you have take, but it takes time to speak the same language and trust the guy next to you. When you have enough knowledge of what you’re doing to actually ask the right questions or make the right adjustments they have to fix things on their own sometimes. They don’t get to come to the sidelines and draw it up. [Penn] has learned the system outside of what he does. I think that is the one thing these guys have really done a good job of – learn the whole picture. They see the big picture as opposed to just living in their little world.
“[Penn] worked in the offseason. He came back in condition. He accepted the fact that he has to learn the whole picture. He doesn’t just live in his little world.”
Penn’s world has changed this year with him playing at an elite level. The touchdown catch only draws more national attention to him, which has been lacking despite shutting out top passers, such as Jared Allen, Osi Umenyiora, DeMarcus Ware and Will Smith over the last two years.
“I’ve never had respect in this league as a left tackle,” Penn said. “I love playing like that and I think the team is starting to get like that and they like playing like that, too. Everybody doubted us last week [at San Francisco].”
When the Bucs travel to Baltimore for Sunday’s game against the Ravens, they will once again be viewed as the under-respected underdog despite the fact that both teams sport 7-3 records.
“You try not to make predictions, you just work hard,” Penn said. “The most common phrase ever is ‘Hard work pays off.’ We’ve been working hard and at some point in time it has to show. Luckily it has and it will continue. The Ravens have a great defensive team, though.”
With the likes of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and pass rusher Terrell Suggs, Baltimore boasts one of the league’s most physical and aggressive defenses with playmakers at every level. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw the ball 50 times in order to defeat the Ravens, 26-21, two weeks ago. But Ryan paid the price for that victory as he was sacked twice by Suggs, who also hit him several times on blitzes.
“If we throw 50 times, Suggs is going to have 50 shots at [Freeman], too, but he’s going to have me in front of him,” Penn said.
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