The premise for this question is going to seem absolutely insane, but before you set my house on fire come with me for a second. This season the Buccaneers had no shortage of great rookie stories. Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount both proved a lot of doubters wrong with strong rookie campaigns, Gerald McCoy was solid, Arrelious Benn showed promise, Cody Grimm defied expectations, but none may be more interesting than Ted Larsen.
“The guy that personifies the team, really, in a weird way is Ted Larsen,’’ GM Mark Dominik said of his rookie left guard, who started the final 11 games. “No one ever talks about him and that’s kind of how we felt we were in the National Football League. No one really knows who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are, outside of this area.’‘
Having played his high school ball at Palm Harbor U and grown up a Bucs fan, Ted Larsen lined up at center in college at NC State and made a pretty good one at that, he was a Rimington finalist his senior season and was selected in the sixth round by New England. The Patriots are pretty esteemed in NFL circles for their ability to scout good linemen, they find players and develop them. That was the plan with Larsen who was to be moved to guard and given time to develop on the practice squad. Instead when the Patriots tried to stash him the Bucs’ opportunistic GM snatched him and put him on the Bucs’ roster.
Ted Larsen and LeGarrette Blount both came into the picture at around the same time, along with James Lee they all saw their first significant action of the season in week seven when injuries and ineffectiveness forced them into the game against the St. Louis Rams. At the time despite being 3-2 the Buccaneers were still not a team sure of their identity offensively. Josh Freeman had shouldered the load thus far but the rushing attack was averaging an abysmal 2.5 yards per carry and ranked just 27th in the NFL.
With Larsen in at left guard and the Bucs line reconfigured to account for injuries to Jeff Faine and Jeremy Trueblood, the offensive line began to round out. Holes began to open, the rushing average slowly creeped up and the offense started to rely more and more on a developing rushing attack.
Now it’s easy to discount the line and say the Buccaneers new-found running game had to do with the back. And to diminish what LeGarrette Blount did in any way would be foolish, but Cadillac Williams began running better in the second half of the season too. In fact Cadillac began to look a lot like his old self at points in the season rushing behind the Buccaneers newfangled line. For as well as Blount played, when Larsen and Lee came into the Bucs lineup there’s no denying that the offensive line improved in two key areas.
First of all they committed far fewer penalties and negative plays. Jeremy Trueblood specifically was one of the most penalized linemen in the league, but the entire unit began to play more efficiently when Larsen and Lee entered the lineup. The other improvement came on the initial surge, the Bucs began to win off the line, slowly you could begin to see holes develop and running lanes became a regular occurrence as opposed to an occasional thing.
Ted Larsen started eleven games at left guard, chances are he’s won that job going into next year as well. He blocked for a 1,000 yard rookie back, he helped the run game improve from 27 to 8th. You can’t ask for more out of a sixth round pick.
Gerald McCoy had a great year too, that’s not to take anything away from him. He came on a little bit slower than most Bucs fans would have liked, a fact exacerbated by N’Dmakong Suh’s quick start in Detroit. But by the mid-season point it had clicked for Bucs’ first-rounder. He had recorded sacks in two straight games, including a two-sack performance (the first of what will hopefully be many in his career) before he was injured in week 14 against the Washington Redskins. He finished the season with 28 tackles and 3 sacks.
This question is in no way a knock on Gerald McCoy, he showed tremendous upside and without much on the line around him still started to factor heavily into games as the season progressed. Next season with the addition of an end or two and with Brian Price healthy, he should have a huge year.
No, this is more of a statement about how well Larsen played this season. He gets no credit, just today Pat Yasinkas discussed the possibility of the Bucs signing Patriots guard Logan Mankins in free agency. I found this ironic because in all likelihood Larsen was drafted by the Patriots to be developed and eventually succeed Mankins WHEN he left in free agency. That’s how they do things in New England. Larsen is here to stay and he proved that with solid play last year, despite it being his first season at guard. Need proof? Look how quickly the Bucs jettisoned Keydrick Vincent after watching Larsen make his first start, they did it the following week, after one game.
So what do you think?