Tampa Bay was forced to spend a seventh-round draft pick to trade up in the fourth round to land USC defensive end Kyle Moore on the second day of the 2009 NFL Draft. Had the team kept that pick, chances are good that it would have used it to draft Iowa center Rob Bruggeman. Fortunately for the Bucs, they were still able to land Bruggeman as an undrafted free agent signee after the draft.

Signing Bruggeman was one of the Bucs’ top priorities following the conclusion of the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and the second-team All-Big 10 center liked what he heard from Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris' sales pitch.

“Coach Morris called me and just the way he spoke with me and the way he relates to players really appealed to me,” Bruggeman said. “I know they are going to the zone blocking system and that’s something we ran at Iowa. I wanted to come down here and compete and try to pick up their offense as soon as possible. I just felt like this would be a good place for me. I like the coaching staff and the offensive line coach, Pete Mangurian, has some connections to Iowa. When I talked to him I just felt like he had a lot of integrity.”

Aside from having an opportunity to compete for the right to back up starting center Jeff Faine, where veteran Sean Mahan is scheduled to make a base salary of over $3 million this year, the allure of learning from Faine was too good for Bruggeman to pass up.

“Jeff Faine is a great player. That was one of the things, too,” Bruggeman said. “I wanted to come down here to learn from one of the best. I knew he was down here and Coach Morris said to come down here and learn from him. He’ll get me ready to play. I’m just looking to come in and compete, try to make the team and learn a lot from some great players.

“I really like the system and the people down here. Maybe that’s my Iowa roots coming through, but I just felt really comfortable with these people down here.”

Another reason for Bruggeman to feel comfortable signing with the Buccaneers is the fact that they play at Raymond James Stadium, which was the scene of Bruggeman’s final collegiate game as Iowa played South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on January 1. Behind Bruggeman’s blocking, junior running back Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries against South Carolina in Iowa’s 31-10 victory. Greene’s longest carry of the day was only 11 yards, which meant that Bruggeman and his linemates upfront turned in a full day’s work.

“Those were good memories,” Bruggeman said about the Outback Bowl victory. “Maybe that was it subconsciously. You get that call from Tampa and you think about going back to Raymond James Stadium. The last time I was there I felt pretty good. Those are great memories and I had a good time over there.”

Bruggeman contributed a lot to the success of Greene, who was drafted at the top of the third round by the New York Jets, but also owes quite a bit to Greene, who made scouts take notice of the center creating holes for him. In 2008, Greene logged 307 carries for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns, posting at least 100 yards rushing in every game thanks to superb offensive line play.

“I think that’s kind of how the zone blocking scheme works. The back and the line really complement each other,” Bruggeman said. “Shonn’s a great zone blocking scheme back. He reads blocks well and we came together as an offensive line. It takes repetitions as a unit and you learn how to feel the people next to you. He’s the best running back I’ve played with. Football is fun. We ran the ball a lot. We didn’t throw the ball that much. If you want to run the ball a lot as an offensive lineman, you should probably be a hard-nosed guy.

“I’m the kind of guy that just likes to go out there and help my team win as much as possible. I want to help my running backs out by giving them a nice, big hole.”

Bruggeman’s leap to the NFL is one forged from determination and perseverance as injuries cost him playing time early in his career and a torn ACL and MCL robbed him off his junior season. Despite sitting out 2007, his Iowa teammates voted the former walk-on center to be a team captain in 2008.

“That meant a lot to me,” Bruggeman said. “You commit to those guys who are around you the whole time you are there. You go through camps and all the ups and downs through the season together. To get voted as a team captain by my teammates means a lot. I’m just glad I gained their respect.”

Bruggeman has two of the traits the Buccaneers look for in offensive linemen – toughness and intelligence. The 6-foot-4, 294-pounder loves to play smashmouth football on the field. Off the field, Bruggeman, who won the Hayden Fry “Extra Heartbeat” Award in 2008, was an Academic All-American and scored a 32 on his Wonderlic, which is a very good score for offensive linemen.

After the conclusion of the Bucs’ rookie mini-camp, Bruggeman was smart enough to realize that he has a lot to learn to become an NFL center.

“I’ve got so much to improve on schematically from studying defenses to working on my footwork,” Bruggeman said. “You come to this camp and you realize you need a lot of work on everything. The list is infinite pretty much.”

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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