Tampa Bay’s re-signings of right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle James Lee this offseason could be taken as an expression of the team’s collective confidence in this offensive line and its importance to success in 2011.
The starting unit of Trueblood, Joseph, center Jeff Faine, left guard Ted Larsen and left tackle Donald Penn performed to expectations in the Buccaneers’ preseason opener two weeks ago in Kansas City. They kept quarterback Josh Freeman’s jersey clean, yellow flags stayed stuffed in referees’ pockets and the starting offense scored points on three of four drives.
Last Thursday’s execution against New England was markedly less impressive.
“I think the New England game was an eye-opener for us,” said Penn, entering his sixth NFL season. “We really look forward to getting back out there again and correcting some of the things we didn’t do right. Miami is a great team to go against. They have a good defense. We just have to keep getting better. We took a step back last week. Hopefully we take two steps forward this week.”
The Patriots’ blitzing 3-4 defensive front assaulted the Tampa Bay line and recorded two sacks of Freeman involving linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive ends Eric Moore and Mark Anderson. The starting O-line was also penalized twice for 15 yards and three times for 20 if including tight end Nathan Overbay’s false start.
Penalty problems continued into the second- and third-team units; a recurring issue from Kansas City. Derek Hardman, Demar Dotson and Will Barker were each flagged once and James Lee was hit twice. The yardage total: 40 yards.
“That’s been a big focus this week,” said Faine, the longest tenured Buc on the line with eight seasons under his belt. “It always will be, especially when you’re playing a team the caliber of the Patriots. They’re going to do well enough playing against you, so you can’t kill yourself. The thing about it is that you’re able to control that as a player. It’s frustrating and those are things we have to fix.”
“It was crazy,” Penn said of the breakdowns last Thursday. “It seemed like everybody picked the same time to make a mistake and all of those times were the wrong times,” Penn said. “The good thing about the New England game is that it is behind us now and it was preseason and we can learn from it and build on it. That’s why I think this week is so important because we want to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
The fact that Tampa Bay reportedly did not game plan for New England made the job of every position player decidedly more difficult, not just the offensive linemen. Regardless, Trueblood said he and his teammates are owning up to their miscues and addressing them accordingly.
“We’re in the NFL,” he said. “You have to be accountable for what you do. Even if you don’t feel like you spent ample time on it. But you’re a pro, you’re supposed to look at the playbook yourself and figure it out.”
Head coach Raheem Morris has said the team is preparing for and approaching the Miami game on Saturday night more like a regular season contest. During Friday’s press conference at One Buccaneer Place, Morris said the team’s New England approach was more akin to going out and “playing baseball.”
“A lot of people would ask the question, ‘Why didn’t you game plan for guys like the Patriots?’ ” Morris said about the staff’s mindset. “It’s because I want to see what you can do without me giving it to you. And then what I want to see this week [is] what you can do with me giving it to you and you adjusting. There is a level of stage on how we prepare and we have kept that same level for a long time.”
“We just wanted to go play baseball, follow our rules and see who could pick up the rules; see who could communicate and see who could play on their feet.”
Penn said that this week’s practice approach should be evident on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. Each line unit will be getting another crack at a 3-4 base defense against Miami. The Dolphins have collected four total sacks during wins over Atlanta and Carolina this preseason.
“This week, we have planned like we are going in there like a regular game week. We are doing that this week. We are teaching some of the young guys how our weeks are.”