One position that has received little attention for its competition, but is vital in the success of the offense is the center position. John Wade has got the majority of the reps with the first-team offense, but Matt Lehr got the start against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dan Buenning could receive reps with the first team during the last two preseason games.
Buenning started at left guard during his rookie season and has 23 career starts at left guard with the Bucs. However, Buenning is making the transition from guard to center after the selection of rookie Arron Sears and guard Anthony Davis battling for time on the left side.
To make matters even more difficult for Buenning, he is coming off knee surgery in the offseason and trying to unseat Wade, who has been the starter for the last four seasons. Buenning has made strides on the practice field and in two preseason games, and head coach Jon Gruden has taken notice. Gruden, however, needs to see more from the players at the center position.
“It all starts with making the right call and getting the ball to the quarterback,” Gruden said. “It rhymes, call and the ball, and block somebody. That’s what we are looking for and it’s big part of football. You are going to see the Dolphins this week and they are going to lineup in four or five different fronts in the first eight plays. So you better make the recognition, make the call and deliver the ball and then block. Do it right and do it consistently and that’s the guy we are going to play.”
Buenning believes the knee is healthy and ready to go, but remembers the small steps he had to take after the surgery. He also is glad to finally be back out on the field and mixing it up again with his teammates.
“Everyone wants to be back and going right away and that’s just not the reality of it,” Beunning said. “I’ve had injuries before where I’ve come off of six months of rehab and it just takes some time and getting the grease back in there and slapping it around."
Added Bucs offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir:
“When you’re coming back from a major injury, your progress is measured sometimes in smaller steps than you would like,” Muir said. “But Dan has been very diligent out here and he’s missed a lot of football. It doesn’t just spring back to where you were overnight. He’s making a lot of progress, and we’re encouraged by it.”
Buenning has shown little struggles with the transition and gives the Bucs another lineman that can play two positions on the offensive line. The only difference with the position change for Buenning is getting used to having the ball in his hands.
Buenning has played on the offensive line through his high school, college and NFL career, but this is the first time he’s had to handle the ball in his career. He knows the system with his experience at guard and has no problem with making the line calls.
“It’s been alright. Offensive-wise and scheme-wise, I feel pretty comfortable and I’ve been in the system a while and calls are not a problem,” Buenning said. “It’s a little different having the ball in your hands because I haven’t touched the ball in 18 years of playing football. It’s fun and keeps it fresh.”
With the recent ankle injury to Sears, Buenning could see an extreme amount of playing time at left guard as well as at center. This gives him an opportunity to impress Gruden at two positions. However, Gruden needs to see enough improvement to feel that Buenning is ready for the season.
“Well, obviously with Sears’ situation you have to go in there and make the adjustments because Dan could go in there and be the left guard,” Gruden said. “So could Anthony Davis. How long we play Petitgout depends on when Anthony goes to left tackle. I’ll just say that Buenning had a terrible year last year. Terrible, from training camp all the way to Dallas. He’s struggled. He’s really struggled. But I saw the light go on there in Jacksonville. I saw the light go on. He made a couple of plays. Not great ones, but he made a step forward. With that being said, we need him to take another step this week, and another step the next week so he can somehow find a way to be ready by the start of the season.”
STOVALL PULLS DISAPPEARING ACT Wide receiver Maurice Stovall made a name for himself during the first two weeks of training camp with his route-running and pass-catching ability. Gruden was impressed with his improvement during the offseason and was looking for big things out of Stovall in the preseason.
Stovall, however, has done little during action against the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. Stovall has combined for two receptions for 21 yards and one fumble. Stovall’s fumble on Saturday against the Jaguars led to a field goal after the Bucs defense held Jacksonville out of the end zone inside the 5-yard line.
As much as Gruden noticed Stovall during practice, he surely noticed his lack of production during the preseason.
“He’s been a magician, I haven’t seen him around here for about two weeks,” Gruden said. “He’s shown up again, I think his legs are coming back. He really showed up at training camp and was dominate. He had a great opening week or eight days of training camp and he did disappear in my opinion from what I wanted to see in the next 10 days and he’s picked it back up. I think his legs have come back and he’s explosive again and he did some great things today.” Stovall is in the battle for the starting position at the “Z” flanker position and needs to display his talent in the last two preseason games to show Gruden what he can do with the ball in his hands.
PLAYER CUT DAY IS CLOSING IN FAST Heading into the third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, this could be the last game for some of the players on the roster to show what contribution they can give to the team. The Bucs will announce their first round of cuts for this season’s preseason on Aug. 28.
The first cuts are normally not too shocking for Bucs fans, but Gruden made a case that anyone can be on the chopping block.
“There are a lot of things possible in this league,” Gruden said. “I saw Jeremiah Trotter who was in the Pro Bowl last season was just released. So you have to make your decisions that you feel are going to help you team win and everybody is going to look at in their own way. We are not going to discriminate against the young players or the veteran players, that’s for sure.”
The final cuts before the regular season will come on Sept. 1 after the Bucs play their final preseason game against the Houston Texans on Aug. 30.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Gruden on if he’s added plays to the offensive playbook after getting quarterback Jeff Garcia that you won’t show in the preseason.
“Yeah. We ran 30 snaps of three-wide receivers last week. We ran 30 snaps of three-wide receivers all last year. We haven’t been in the shotgun. There are a lot of things we are going to try and dabble in. Our offensive line, some say is young but we didn’t give up a sack against Jacksonville. We didn’t have a ball batted down. I think last year we had a dozen sacks and another dozen balls rejected. So we are making strides up there so that too is going to allow us to be a little bit different. There’s not enough plays in the game to get to a lot of this stuff. Some of the guys you want to see do some things are not active in the second half.”
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