Several players have been participating in Tampa Bay's voluntary workouts in preparation for the Buccaneers' mandatory mini-camp, which will be held at One Buc Place next week.
That includes Bucs center Jeff Faine, who made his debut in Tampa Bay last year after becoming the highest-paid center in the NFL with a six-year, $37.5 million contract he inked on the first day of free agency in 2008.
Faine, who turns 28 next month, quickly established himself as a leader in Tampa Bay's locker room last year and went on to start all 16 regular season games for the Bucs.
But Tampa Bay's season ended earlier than Faine and his teammates had planned. After starting 9-3, the Bucs suffered a four-game losing streak in December, finishing the season 9-7 and missing the playoffs.
That collapse prompted several changes, including the firing of head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, and promotions for Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik.
Although Morris hired a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Jagodzinski, Tampa Bay's offensive line remains intact.
In fact, the offensive line, which is one of the league's youngest, is the unit the Bucs are building their offense around.
It's early, but Faine likes what he has seen from Jagodzinski and new offensive line coach Pete Mangurian, who are in the process of implementing Tampa Bay's zone blocking scheme.
"I think it's right up a lot of our guys' alleys," Faine said of the zone blocking scheme. "We have a pretty athletic offensive line. I think our skills fit this a little better than some of the things we were doing in the past. It gets us out in space and things like that. I think we should take advantage of this while we have it."
Faine and Co. will be required to run the football quite a bit in Jagodzinski's system. Tampa Bay ran the ball well through the first half of the season. At one point, Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn were each on pace to rush for 1,000 yards, but then injuries depleted Tampa Bay's backfield.
The Bucs rushed for 1,837 yards (4.1 avg.) and 13 touchdowns in 2008, but failed to produce a 100-yard rusher after Week 6 and allowed a total of 32 sacks, although some of those breakdowns cannot be attributed to the O-line.
The drop off in the running game was one of the reasons why the Bucs released Dunn and signed Giants RB Derrick Ward, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last year.
Faine believes the Bucs have the weapons to have great success in the zone blocking system.
"I watched a little bit of his tape a few weeks ago when we picked him up," Faine said of Ward. "I knew they had a three-headed monster in New York and didn't pay much attention, but after watching the tape he looks pretty good.
"I'm excited to get Earnest Graham back, too. Some of the more fun games I was a part of were blocking for Earnest and watching him do his thing. Hopefully we can get Cadillac [Williams] back on the field, too, because he showed some great things there towards the end of the season before he got hurt. I am excited about the potential of that position."
A former first-round pick with Cleveland, Faine is entering his seventh NFL season. The Bucs will have a new starting quarterback under center with the departure of Jeff Garcia and re-signing of Luke McCown.
Faine feels McCown, second-year QB Josh Johnson and veteran Brian Griese will have a stiff competition this offseason.
"I think those guys are fully capable," Faine said of Tampa Bay's quarterbacks. "I'm impressed with Josh's growth from when he first got here. When he first got here he was hesitant to say the snap count, and now he's taking good control of the offense. From what I've seen so far he's definitely grown a little bit and definitely has matured.
"Luke is steady. He's showing some confidence right now that I haven't seen out of him since I've been back here in Tampa and especially when I was with him in Cleveland. We still have Griese, too. He is capable of moving this team as well. I'm excited. It's going to be a good competition."
Tampa Bay's starting offensive line consists of two former first-round draft picks (Faine and Davin Joseph), two second-round selections (Arron Sears and Jeremy Trueblood) and one undrafted free agent (Donald Penn). Bucs 2008 third-round pick, guard Jeremy Zuttah, is also in the mix.
Some believe this unit is the most talented offensive line Tampa Bay has ever fielded in its franchise history.
But Faine knows Tampa Bay's young, but talented offensive line has plenty of room for improvement.
"I don't want to say we lacked it before, but the one thing we had all the way across the board was a bite," Faine said of his fellow offensive linemen. "There was a bite in all of us. I've been on quite a few offensive lines where there are 2-3 guys that like to get after it, and then there are a few guys that just do what is necessary to get through to get the job done. With our offensive line, it's not just about getting the job done. It's taking it to that next level. We want to get the whole defense out of their game because all they are thinking about is what we're doing to them. That's something I appreciate about this offensive line tremendously.
"Looking back on it I feel like we didn't finish the way we wanted to as a group. There were spots where we did show what we could do, but we didn't do it every week. The Bears game was a great example of that. We threw the ball over 60 times in that game and didn't allow a sack. But then we went to Denver and played terribly. You have to do it week-in and week-out and finish the season like we should have. I think we made some tremendous progress from where we were, but we need to be consistent. That's something we need to focus on this year."