The Buccaneers can only hope that rookie left guard Arron Sears will hold off defenders as well as he’s held off the competition from his own teammates.

A second-round selection out of Tennessee in April’s draft, Sears has overcome a knee injury during organized team activities and an ankle sprain in the week leading up to the preseason finale vs. Houston to beat out Dan Buenning and Anthony Davis for the starting left guard job.

“He’ll start," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden confirmed on Monday. "As long as Arron is [healthy], he’s starting for us. We haven’t had anybody like him [except for Davin Joseph]. Those guys are two really good players. I think Sears could have gone last week, to be honest with you. But because it was a short week and all of the inactivity that he’s had we chose to rest him.”

When he wasn’t nursing injuries, the 6-foot-3, 319-pound Sears performed well in training camp and preseason, especially in the running game. Despite the fact that he’s a rookie, Sears played well enough to beat out Buenning, who started 23 games at left guard over the past two seasons, and Davis, who started 32 games at left tackle over the past two years before attempting to make the transition to left guard this year.

“I’m just glad to be healthy and being able to step into the game,” Sears said. “We are going against a great football team, a great defensive line. They are good year in and year out and it’s just great to be with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the first game of the season healthy.”

With Sears entering the starting lineup, Tampa Bay has two new starting offensive linemen. The Bucs signed left tackle Luke Petitgout during the offseason. Sears said he would benefit from playing alongside a proven veteran like Petitgout.

“It does wonders for me to have a guy that has played in this league for a number of years,” Sears said of Petitgout. “He sees the tendencies before the defensive guys even move around for what they are going to do. So a healthy guy like him along with another veteran guy like

John Wade, it’s just a great plus for me.”

In addition to Sears and Petitgout, Tampa Bay’s offense, which ranked 29th overall and scored just 20 touchdowns in 2006, will have several new starters, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, fullback B.J. Askew or Michael Pittman and possibly at wide receiver, where David Boston or Maurice Stovall could start in place of Michael Clayton.

“I think we are ready. We are a whole new football team if you look at it,” Gruden said. “We have a new quarterback, we’re going to have a new opening day starter at right tackle, right guard, left guard, fullback. We possibly have a new starter at flanker, we will be using new guys at tight end and defensively, we’ve added a lot of different players. So we put a lot of time in and a lot of work and I believe we have a pretty good football team.”

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