Former starter Jeremy Trueblood is a free agent, but Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik has fortified the right tackle position over the last two years to the point where the Bucs don't have to re-sign Trueblood and may not have to address the position in the 2011 NFL Draft.
At first glance, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ right tackle position may be an area of weakness to some NFL pundits that don’t follow the team closely. With Jeremy Trueblood, a starter for the past five years since becoming a Buccaneer as a second-round pick in 2005, slated for free agency, the right tackle position appears thin on paper.
But inside One Buccaneer Place, the team feels quite about the players it has at right tackle. James Lee, a third-year player that began his Buccaneers career on the practice squad in 2008, became the starting right tackle for nine games last year when he replaced Trueblood after he suffered a knee injury against St. Louis in October. When Trueblood returned from the injury a month later, he was able to pry it away from Lee in some spirited practices towards the end of the season.
“I feel like it’s mine now and I don’t plan on giving it up,” Lee said in December. “I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at and I feel good about the way I’ve played.”
Lee’s more than competent play surprised the team as it saw the South Carolina State product get better with each game in 2010. He is slated to be a restricted free agent in 2011, but the team plans to re-sign him. However, Lee's performance has made Trueblood expendable, but there are some within the organization that would like to see Trueblood re-signed because he has room to improve his game and has not fulfilled his true potential yet. The fact that Trueblood lost and was unable to regain his starting job will likely hurt his market value and may potentially aid Tampa Bay if it wishes to re-sign him this spring.
If Trueblood returns it will bolster the right tackle position to the point where the Buccaneers might not have to draft an offensive tackle in April. However, his departure may cause the team to add another tackle in the draft for competition.
Yet thanks to the foresight of general manager Mark Dominik this past season, the cupboard is not bare behind Lee and Trueblood at right tackle. Dominik’s draft study has shown that the majority of the league’s successful starting tackles have come from the first and second round of the draft. However, that’s not always the case, as Lee and left tackle Donald Penn both entered the league as undrafted free agents.
But to ensure that the Buccaneers wouldn’t feel compelled to spend a high draft pick on an offensive tackle, Dominik signed former Virginia standout Will Barker to the practice squad on September 6. Barker quickly picked up the system and was promoted to the active roster.
At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, the Bucs like Barker’s size and feel that he has the potential to develop into a player that could possibly challenge for a starting role at some point down the road. Barker is not the only option the Bucs have at right tackle.
Second-year player Demar Dotson spent the 2010 season on injured reserve after tearing an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), but is highly thought of within the organization. In fact, when Penn did not report for the team’s OTAs (organized team activities) and mandatory mini-camp, it was Dotson who took the reps as the starting left tackle.
The 6-foot-9, 315-pound Dotson won the swing tackle position during the preseason and would have gotten the first shot at replacing Trueblood in the starting lineup after he went down with an injury if not for Dotson’s own injured knee in the preseason finale against Houston.
“You have to be proud of guys like James Lee, who has been in this league for 10 years,” Dotson said in December while continuing to rehab his knee injury. “I wish I could be out there. It hurts me every day that I’m not out there, but there’s nothing I can do. God has a plan for everybody’s life and I know he has a plan for my life. All I can do is pick my head up, keep my head up and go out there and work on getting better.”
Dotson, a former basketball player at Southern Miss, used the regular season to increase his strength in the weight room, and now sports more definition in his upper body as a result. Because Dotson only played one year of organized football, which was at defensive tackle during his senior season at Southern Miss, he also spent a good deal of time with former offensive line coach Pete Mangurian continuing to learn the nuances of both Greg Olson’s offense and how to play offensive tackle.
Dotson is on his way to a full recovery and was walking without the aid of crutches in November and without any limp in December, and should be cleared to return to the field for OTAs this spring if a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached to either avoid or end a potential lockout by the NFL owners. Dotson, who has the most athletic ability and potential of any current Tampa Bay lineman outside of Penn, must also be considered in the mix for the starting right tackle job in 2011 along with Lee and possibly Trueblood if the team elects to re-sign him.
With as many as three viable in-house candidates to start along with Barker for depth, Dominik has done a good job of stockpiling the right tackle position in 2011. Now the Bucs can draft a right tackle in April if they want to – rather than have to.
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