The Bucs offensive line has seen its fair share of changes this season, from losing both Pro Bowl guards to personnel changes in the starting lineup. Somehow, the patchwork O-Line has allowed two or fewer sacks in nine games, a first for the organization since 1998. Just when consistency seemed to set in for the offense,Tampa Bay may see another change up front this Sunday.
Jamon Meredith ultimately replaced Davin Joseph, after Ted Larsen was given a short stint at right guard. The fourth-year lineman out of South Carolina has played well in both pass protection and run blocking, but suffered an ankle injury on Wednesday and was seen on crutches. Meredith was limited for the final period of the practice and sat out Thursday’s practice, leading many to wonder if he’d be able to go Sunday against the Panther’s fierce pass rush, which has 25 sacks so far this season.
Friday, Meredith was back on the field at One Buc in limited capacity and is listed as questionable heading into Carolina.
The “next man up” mentality has worked so far for the Bucs and if Meredith cannot play Sunday, Roger Allen is thought to be the frontrunner for the job.
With all of the adversity the line has faced this season, it’s not a stretch to say that much of the credit for the exceptional play should go to offensive line coach Bob Bostad and his assistant Steve Loney.
People may not be talking about what a tremendous job the coaching duo has done, but Pro-Bowl left tackle Donald Penn feels that they should be.
“I really don’t think he’s getting any credit at all,” Penn said, “And he should get a lot because he’s doing a great job. He’s a great O-Line coach and he’s doing a great job with this group. Like you said, a lot of guys have been thrown here and thrown there. He’s doing a great job getting us prepared, he’s doing a great job of our technique and scheme and everything and just going over it more. Every game I go into I feel really prepared, not saying I haven’t been in the past, but Bob’s doing a great job and he needs to get a little more recognition for what he’s doing because he is doing a great job.”
Josh Freeman, who is tied as the third-fewest sacked quarterback in the league, also credits the coaching staff for the preparation the linemen have had.
“Those guys are doing a great job,” Freeman said. “They’ve got a great coach, two coaches I guess - Bob Bostad and Coach Loney, they do an awesome job getting those guys ready and then those guys take a lot of pride in how we’re running the ball and also [with] what they do in pass protection.”
The personnel changes are not a concern for the signal caller, who has one interception in the past five games. Freeman believes that each and every player has been well coached and is playing sound football.
“In this organization everybody has a job to do,” Freeman said, “Whether you’re the starter at the beginning of the season or you don’t pick up until Week 11, but either way I know those guys are going to go out and put forth their best effort. I have a lot of confidence in that group.”
Penn, an undrafted prospect out of Utah State in 2006, has become the vocal leader of the front five and doesn’t feel the O-Line’s stats are important; to him, there is always room for improvement.
“We’re really trying to stay away from talking about what we’ve done and just try to get better,” Penn said. “That’s been our main focus this season and week by week we’ve been trying to do that. We’ve tried not to sit on what we did in the past or what we did in the past week and get better day by day and keep moving on. And I think us doing that is what’s been so positive and helping us by staying positive week by week and not falling into a trap of everybody saying how good you did and just staying focused and just staying hungry and I think that’s what’s helping us play so well.”
Along with the 25 sacks, the Carolina pass defense is ranked 16th averaging 231.9 yards allowed per game, almost even with the Buccaneers’ passing offense at 240 yards. Although the two NFC South rivals met in Week 1 with the Bucs claiming a 16-10 victory in the first outing, the Panthers are a much better team than their 2-7 records dictates.
“They’re a way better team than what their record shows and those are games you get scared of,” Penn said. “Those are the tough games where you go out there really prepared. Their defense is a great defense. They have a losing record but their defense is a top-10 in almost every category on defense, so they’re playing some good ball on defense. We just have to go out there and keep building and keep building not get comfortable.”
Head coach Greg Schiano said Friday at his press conference that he is hopeful Meredith will be a go on Sunday, but if there are any setbacks and the Bucs need to find a temporary replacement, the team feels they will be in good hands thanks to the preparation and coaching of Bostad and Loney - the unsung heroes of the offensive line.