Despite a glaring need to yet again overhaul their offensive line, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not address that unit in free agency with any big-name signings. Instead, the Bucs let Cosey Coleman, who was a 16-game starter at right guard, hit the free agent market, and are expected to part ways with Todd Steussie, a right tackle who started four games last year, after June 1 to help clear salary cap space needed to sign the team’s rookies this summer.
So how is Tampa Bay’s offensive line supposed to get better? The Bucs expect to fill some of their needs in the starting lineup by staying in-house with younger players the team has developed, such as second-year lineman Jeb Terry, who is expected to challenge for the starting right guard spot vacated by Coleman this year. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder did not see any action on offense during his rookie season due to some deficiencies in his pass protection ability, but the coaching staff feels confident that Terry’s strong work ethic will allow him to improve enough to where he is ready to win a starting assignment by September.
“This year I’ve mainly been working on my footwork and speed and just trying to make sure I get the right position,” Terry said. “I have a problem with getting too aggressive occasionally on pass blocking, and that gets me in trouble and gets me off balance. I’ve been working to make sure I’m in the right position on field and being more patient and making sure my hands are as quick as they can be.”
Dating back to his college days at North Carolina, Terry’s strength has always been blowing holes open for the running game. And with Tampa Bay’s ground game ranked 29th last year and averaging just 93.1 yards per game, the Bucs will need to get more of a push off the line of scrimmage in 2005.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” Terry said, regarding improving the rushing attack. “We need to have a solid running game this year if we are going to do anything in the league. It’s going to be a big focus of ours. It’s going to be up to us inside guys to get the inside zones going, then we’ll be able to open up the outside stuff. It all starts off with an inside running game so we have to get that going.”
The Bucs’ fifth-round pick in 2004 said that establishing a running game gets offensive linemen into a rhythm and lets then become much more aggressive.
“You get to come hit somebody instead of getting hit,” Terry said. “With pass blocking you are sitting there reacting and protecting. When you are run blocking, you can come off and hit the guy. There’s more room for error in run blocking than there is in pass blocking. You can be a lot more aggressive and really come off and try to whack somebody.”
Terry acknowledges that he is putting more pressure on himself to become a complete player as quickly as possible because there is a starting position open due to the team’s decision not to re-sign Coleman. He views this offseason as an opportunity to take a big step in his fledgling NFL career.
“When you see a starting job is potentially open, it makes you want to drive for it,” Terry said. “You’ve got it in your sights. Last year, I came in and the O-line was set. I was just trying to make the roster and get into the rotation. My goal is to start. There’s no other need for me to be out here other than to start. My goal is to start this year and I plan on doing that. I have a great grasp of the offense right now.
“I try to prepare the same way every year, regardless of whether I’m starting or not. You have to come in and be ready to play. I’m focusing on my conditioning, maintaining my strength and working on my footwork. I have to prove myself to my O-linemen and my coaches and complete the job without falling off.”
Despite the team’s struggles with the running game and the dissatisfaction with Coleman’s play last year, Terry didn’t get the chance to play on Sundays due to his inexperience and inconsistency. When asked if he thought he should have played last year to gain some experience, especially down the stretch when the Bucs were out of playoff contention, Terry said he wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
“I was frustrated last year, especially with the way the season ended,” Terry said. “I would have loved to have gotten some live fire, but that was the coaches’ decision and you’ve got to live with that. I tried to sit back and learn as much as I could. It could be a blessing – you never know. I didn’t get injured. That was a bonus. I feel real healthy going into this year. On one side, I’m happy. On the other side, I’m upset about it.
“But I feel a lot more confidence coming in now. I’ve been in the system for a year. I’m actually out there and allowed to play. I’m not thinking. Last year, I was in my stance with a lot of stuff going on in my head. I was worried about what I was doing rather than playing football. It’s a lot easier. I can play more freely.”
While the Bucs want to establish an inside running game, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden also wants to develop a perimeter running game, too. Terry possesses great athleticism and has the ability to be a great downfield blocker on pulling plays and screen passes. Terry’s strength in those areas are some of the reasons Tampa Bay felt comfortable letting Coleman go in free agency
“I’m excited to get on the edge and run this year,” Terry said. “I get to go out in the open field and make a play where your block makes the play or it doesn’t. It’s fun to get out in the open and move like that.”
When the 2004 season ended on January 2, Terry did not head home to Texas or take a vacation. Instead, he stayed in Tampa Bay and hit the weight room and continued his running and conditioning. As a result, he has gained some flexibility and agility and put himself into a prime position to become a starter this coming season.
Despite Terry’s unbridled enthusiasm for competing for the starting spot at right guard, Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir said he doesn’t have Terry or anyone penciled in as a starter at this point in the offseason.
“Right now it’s safe to say that he’s in the mix to see if he can make the roster again,” Muir said of Terry. “There are no starting roles assigned at this time. Obviously, somebody who has started at the position has a chance to retain that position, but I can tell you that it is much too early in the game to talk about that. We’re not done bringing in people. We’ll bring in people from the draft and after June 1 in free agency.”
However, Muir is encouraged by the progress Terry made last year after a successful training camp and preseason, but he must see more evidence before inserting Terry into the starting lineup.
“He developed,” Muir said. “There’s no question about that. We have a pretty intense in-season practice on Wednesday and Thursday and he got an opportunity to do a lot of live work against our defense. How can you get any better training than that? He responded to that pretty well. There’s no question he’s grown as a football player. I kind of liken offensive linemen to fruit. They’ve got to ripen on the vine or the tree. He’s ripening.
“Anthony Davis – it’s going to be his third year. He’s ready to make a move. I don’t know whether Jeb is ready to make a move yet. We’ll see.”
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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: [email protected]