The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had to draw on their depth of their talented young offensive line already in 2009. The line that had been filled with some high draft picks, and notable signings has lost one of the building blocks with guard Arron Sears not being medically cleared to practice. Replacing Sears in the Bucs' first team offensive line is second-year pro Jeremy Zuttah.
"I'm working with the ones right now," said Zuttah. "You can't worry about who is not here I'm just trying to go where I'm at."
At this time, offensive line coach Pete Mangurian did not know when Sears would return to the playing field to compete with Zuttah. Pewter Report learned more about Sears' condition and why he has been out of offseason workouts.
"We'll see where that goes. I hope [Sears] is ready for training camp," said Mangurian. "In the meantime this gives Jeremy Zuttah an opportunity to jump in there and show what he can do.
"Right now Arron has been out for a while. He hasn't been practicing for the last couple of days, but I can't tell you much beyond that at this point."
Zuttah was selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Rutgers. As a rookie he was trained to be the Bucs' sixth offensive linemen with position flexibility. He learned to play guard, center, and right tackle. He started the first four games of the season at right guard in place of Davin Joseph, and started one game in the middle of the season at left guard for Sears. The Tennessee product Sears missed that game with back and concussion injuries. With the status of Sears up in the air, Zuttah has focused on playing guard exclusively.
"At this point we are continuing with (playing guard), I'm just starting to compete for that, and trying to focus on that," said Zuttah. "If it comes down to where I have to go back to center and tackle and take some reps there I feel like I could easy enough, but I'm trying to compete and get better right now. You can't focus on one thing when you are doing that. You have to train yourself to be versatile. Now I can focus on one spot and try to get better at one spot.
"I feel comfortable. It is an adjustment not trying to play every position and just focusing on one, to get better at all those aspects instead of just a broad scheme. It is something that has to be adjusted too."
While Zuttah has been able to concentrate on one position, he has also had to learn the new offense. New head coach Raheem Morris hired Jeff Jagodzinski to be his offensive coordinator, and Jagodzinski has installed a zone-blocking scheme for the rushing attack. Last year and in the year's prior under former head coach Jon Gruden, the Buccaneers ran predominantly a man-blocking scheme. Zuttah said that he is a fan of the new system.
"I like it, one of the keys to that scheme is being a quick athletic offensive linemen," said Zuttah. "I feel like I fit very well into that."
The offense is something similar to what Zuttah played in at Rutgers. While there are some differences, he said the overall concepts are very similar.
Zuttah said the offensive line is doing a lot running in their new plays and because of that he has lost some weight. Last year he was listed at 6-foot-4, 303-pounds. This year he said he has lost seven or eight pounds thus far and is checking in at 295 or 296.
"I'm actually down in my body weight from last year," Zuttah said. "Because of the scheme and all that, but my weight room numbers are going up.
"It just helps you because this scheme is so much running, and is about so much running. You have to be able to go hard the whole game. If you have all that extra weight it isn't possible."
Last week new offensive line coach Mangurian discussed the Bucs new approach with the offensive linemen. Zuttah echoed some of Mangurian's comments about the physical shape the linemen have to now be in.
"I think you have to be in tremendous condition to play this game, especially in Tampa," said Mangurian. "We're down here in the heat and that's got to be a plus for us when teams come into town to play us. That certainly can't be a disadvantage to us. You have to be conditioned. It's a long season, so you have to work. If you don't you'll wear down towards the end of the season. There is no doubt about that. The teams that work hard in the offseason and are in top condition are the ones that play down the stretch. If you're not in great condition going in, guys tend to get injured and miss time, and then the consistency we talk about goes out the window and you start having problems. Our emphasis at this point is to get in great physical condition to where we can sustain the level of play we think we need to be successful."
The return of Sears is unclear right now when, or if, it will happen.