After having to stay away from on-field activities for nearly a week due to a rule in the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement, three re-signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers veteran offensive linemen strapped on the pads Friday afternoon and got back to work.
Right guard Davin Joseph and right tackles Jeremy Trueblood and James Lee all inked deals to stay put on July 29, but were unable to participate in training camp until Aug. 4 due to a stipulation in the league’s new CBA.
The trio of blockers each expressed their excitement for getting back between the lines.
“It feels awesome,” said Trueblood, 28, entering his sixth year as a pro after being drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Bucs. “It feels awesome to be a Buc. It feels awesome to be on the practice field playing football – playing a kid's game.”
Their debuts were nearly delayed for another day when rain and lightning pushed Friday afternoon’s 2:30 start back by about an hour. Lee, who took second-string reps behind Trueblood at right tackle during Friday's practice after starting nine games a year ago, was also thrilled to get back to work.
“I was real excited at first, and then we had to go right back in,” Lee said of the inclement weather that roughly coincided with the practice’s start. “So I kind of got relaxed, but at the same time we came back out and got in some really good work.”
Also seeing his first action on the line this offseason was veteran tackle Demar Dotson, signed in late July as an exclusive-rights free agent.
Joseph, 27, said it’s going to take a little more time to get back up to game speed, but Friday was a quality start.
“Well, it’s helping to get the rust off. It’s not all off yet, but we had a positive practice today. We had a little weather delay, but the tempo still remained the same. The young guys on defense look great [and] gave us some multiple looks.
“It was good. It was good getting back and hitting somebody instead of hitting bags.”
The Bucs’ 6-foot-3, 313-pound first-round selection out of Oklahoma in 2006 started the first 11 games of the year before going down with a season-ending foot injury. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2009 and is entrenched as the starter at right guard after signing a seven-year, $53 million that features a $9.5 million salary in 2011.
Tampa’s situation at right tackle isn’t so cut-and-dry, with Trueblood [6-foot-8, 320 pounds] and Lee [6-foot-4, 305 pounds] expected to battle each other for the starting nod leading up to the Sept. 11 opener against Detroit. Trueblood started 67 straight games since the beginning of 2007, but a knee injury vaulted Lee onto the first team after 2010’s sixth game. Trueblood remained Lee’s backup when he returned from his injury two weeks later and made only one more start, coming in Week 16 when Lee was hurt.
“Competition brings the best out of both of us,” said Lee, beginning his fourth pro season with the Bucs after being acquired from Cleveland in 2008. “We both want to start and I think it’s just going to be a great battle this camp. We’re good friends, there’s no hate or anything, but it’s definitely going to be a good battle.”
Joseph agreed that there will be plenty of competition for the starting position to the right of him and that both veterans performed well Friday.
“You know of course there is going to be a competition at the right tackle spot. Jeremy did well today, he did really well. A lot of the communication is still good. His understandings of the plays are still there. [We’ve] got a couple of wrinkles in there we are still working on, but overall both guys really had great practices.”
“[Lee] is a versatile guy,” Joseph continued. “He can play left tackle and right tackle. Obviously, he is talented as can be and had a heck of an offseason. It shows in his movement. It shows he is really in shape right now. He is the guy we need.”
Trueblood, Joseph and Lee all spoke equally well of new Bucs offensive line coach Pat Morris, brought on staff this past offseason after spending the past five years in the same capacity with the Minnesota Vikings. Morris, a 14-year NFL veteran, replaces outgoing line coach Pete Mangurian.
Morris previously coached with Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson during stints in Detroit and San Francisco and is known to prefer power-blocking systems in the running game. Olson began returning the offense to such schemes last season, especially with the emergence and style of running back LeGarrette Blount.
That strategy runs counter with Mangurian, who prefers zone schemes that stress agility, quickness and more lateral blocking.
Trueblood is often cited as being more comfortable and at his best playing smash-mouth ball, driving defenders back off the line, but expressed indifference Friday when asked if he fits better with Morris in comparison to Mangurian’s style.
“I don’t really feel either way. I’m just here to play football,” Trueblood said.
Lee said that while he received accolades for his play when given a shot last year, he sees no troubles transitioning into Morris’s system.
“All of us were here with [former head coach Jon] Gruden and we ran that offense earlier," Lee said. "That was actually my rookie year, so we’re kind of getting back to it. It’s taking a little time, but I think we’ll do great."
Trueblood did say that he is taking advantage of learning from his new, experienced position coach.
“I think he’s a great coach. There’s a reason why he’s regarded as one of the best in the business. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s great at technique and he’s great at the footwork. He’s getting us prepared very well.”
Joesph echoed Lee, and said Morris reminds him a lot of Bill Muir, the offensive line coach under John Gruden.
“He was here when Coach Gruden was here and he’s really an old school type of O-line coach," Joseph said. "He’s really doing a good job with us dealing with the quick transition from not really having an offseason to just being in camp.”
But most imperative, Joseph said, is for the unit to maximize the time spent together on days like Friday. The league’s extended lockout has led to an abbreviated training camp to prepare, so the guys in the trenches need to coalesce as soon as possible.
“We’ve got to take advantage of every snap,” he said. “We don’t have the traditional training camp with two-a-days. We have a lot of walk-throughs, a lot of film sessions, but not a lot of actual on field work. So we just have to make every snap count and do well in the preseason games.”
– Victoria Horchak and Scott Reynolds contributed to this report