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OVERVIEW The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will attempt to upgrade their offensive line, particularly the guard position, in the 2006 NFL Draft.
The effort to improve their offensive line could start as early as the first round, where the Bucs have the 23rd overall pick and likely will have the opportunity to draft a good offensive linemen at that position.
Tampa Bay won’t be looking to upgrade its left guard position as it was extremely pleased with Dan Buenning, the team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Buenning started all 17 games for Tampa Bay last year, and he arguably was the team’s most consistent offensive lineman.
Bucs center John Wade (6-5, 299) didn’t have a great year in 2005, and understandably so. He was coming off a rehabilitated dislocated knee injury that he suffered during the 2004 regular season. Still, Wade, 31, isn’t going to improve at this stage in his career, and the Bucs already are thinking about finding his successor.
Sean Mahan (6-3, 301), who started all 17 games at right guard for Tampa Bay last season, is a bit undersized for the guard position and is viewed more as a center. However, Mahan won’t be able to compete with Wade for the starting center job unless the Bucs upgrade the right guard position first.
Jeb Terry (6-5, 311) was poised to compete with Mahan for the starting right guard job in training camp last year until he suffered a significant knee injury that bothered him for over half of the regular season. Terry, a 2004 fifth-round draft pick, has yet to prove that he’s capable of starting along Tampa Bay’s offensive line, and this could be a make-or-break year for him.
Tampa Bay might have found an upgrade in Toniu Fonoti, the 6-foot-4, 400-pound guard that previously played with San Diego and Minnesota. When healthy, Fonoti is a solid player, but he’s struggled with injuries and weight over the past few years. Although he is said to have lost some weight already, there’s no guarantee Fonoti will even make it to training camp if he can’t get back down to 360 pounds and stay healthy.
With Fonoti being a big question mark, no pun intended, Tampa Bay could very well invest its first-round draft pick on an offensive guard.
The player on Tampa Bay’s radar is USC’s Deuce Lutui, who has been deemed the best guard in the draft by some in the Bucs organization. Lutui, who is a solid run and pass blocker, has a bigger frame (6-4, 338) than offensive line coach Bill Muir’s traditional offensive linemen, but he’s very athletic, which Muir craves in his O-linmen.
If he still is available when the Bucs pick at No. 23, Lutui likely will have a couple of his former coaches – defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Greg Burns — going to bat for him in the Bucs War Room. Also working in Lutui’s favor is the fact that Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s son, Lane, is the offensive coordinator at USC.
Lutui opened up many running lanes for Reggie Bush and Lendale White and can also play right tackle. If the Bucs draft him, Lutui likely would compete with Fonoti and Terry for the starting right guard job, which would allow Mahan to push Wade for the starting center job. While they wouldn’t have to with Lutui onboard, the Bucs could keep Fonoti and Terry on their active roster.
With Wade’s best years behind him and Mahan scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007, there’s a chance the Bucs could use their first-round pick on Ohio State center Nick Mangold. While taking Mangold with the 23rd overall pick could be deemed a bit high by some draft pundits, the 6-foot-3, 299-pound center is the best player at his position in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Some scouts believe Mangold, who is a great run blocker and has outstanding character and leadership skills, could play guard in the NFL, which intrigues the Bucs seeing as they like versatile offensive linemen.
If Tampa Bay passes on an interior offensive lineman in the first round, it could land a starting-caliber guard in the second round by drafting Oklahoma’s David Joseph, but he might not be there when the Bucs pick late in the second round.
The Bucs haven’t had the best luck in terms of investing mid-round picks on interior linemen (see Lance Nimmo and Austin King), so it’s unclear whether the team would invest yet another mid-round pick on a center or guard.
If they decide to go that route, the Bucs could target C Greg Eslinger (Minnesota), G Fred Matua (USC), C Jason Spitz (Lousville), G Rob Sims (Ohio State) or Mark Setterstrom (Minnesota). Late-round options are G Jason Murphy (Virginia Tech), G Will Montgomery (Virginia Tech) or G Frank Davis (USF).
The remaining interior linemen that are currently on Tampa Bay’s roster — Phil Bogle (6-2, 322), Jonathan Clinkscale (6-2, 315), Scott Jackson (6-4, 300) and Jason Nerys (6-4, 310) — likely will serve as extra bodies at training camp. However, Jackson is one of Jon Gruden’s favorite players because of his versatility and toughness, and could sneak his way onto the active roster, especially if there are injuries in camp or preseason.
Current Position Grade: C+
Bucs Update Publishing Schedule April 24 – Defensive Ends April 25 – Defensive Tackles April 26 – Linebackers April 27 – Cornerbacks April 27 – Safeties April 28 – Kickers/Punters
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