Mid-Season Report: Offensive Line

The Bucs line has battled injuries and inconsistency so far.
The Bucs line has battled injuries and inconsistency so far. /
The Bucs line has battled injuries and inconsistency so far this year.
The Bucs line has battled injuries and inconsistency so far this year. /

We continue our mid-season breakdown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by examining their offensive line play.

The Bucs offensive line has been a unit that has battled injuries and inconsistency. Coming into the season the line was talked up as a strength of the team. Unfortunately, predictions and projections don’t matter once the games start and this Buccaneers offensive line had a number of problems creep up on it over the first half. From the injuries of Jeremy Trueblood and Jeff Faine to the at-times inconsistent play of Donald Penn, this line has struggled at points in the first half.

When this Buccaneers line was healthy they couldn’t run the football. There were a multitude of reasons for this, Cadillac Williams seems to have lost a step, Earnest Graham isn’t the most proficient lead blocker and also, they didn’t open a lot of holes. By the time the Bucs were squaring off with St. Louis they were resorting to bringing James Lee, a reserve tackle, to line up at tight end and give them an unbalanced line.

When Jeff Faine went out for a protracted period and Jeremy Trueblood went down with a knee injury things looked extremely bleak for the run-game. The Bucs would then have to turn to a young group of reserves to fill in, Kareem Huggins had been lost for the year and Cadillac was proving ineffective. A lot of Bucs fans thought that those two injuries would be a death knell for the run game. Instead they proved to be a small blessing, in a way.

The strength of the Buccaneers line may not have been their starting five, it looks like it may have actually been the depth. Ted Larsen has been solid since being picked up from New England’s scrap pile during training camp. The former sixth-round pick has performer admirably as a rookie since being inserted into the line-up for the Rams game. In fact Larsen has developed so nicely that the Bucs were able to jettison Keydrick Vincent in favor of the much younger rookie guard.

Players like James Lee, Jeremy Zuttah and Larsen have stepped in and made notable contributions, in fact since the Rams game when the Bucs had to turn to their reserves in the wake of injuries, the Bucs running game has looked like a solid component of the offense. A lot of that also coincides with the emergence of LeGarrette Blount, but in the weeks since he’s entered the line-up the run blocking has stabilized and gotten to the point where some fans are even beginning to feel confident in it.

That’s going to continue to improve as the line gets healthy, Jeremy Trueblood and Jeff Faine will return and allow Jeremy Zuttah to shift from center back out to left guard (provided he beats out Larsen who is improving every week at left guard). The bottom line is that these injuries have shown the Bucs depth along the line and will improve the level of experience and competition along the whole line. The run blocking is set to improve dramatically over the second half of the season. When LeGarrette Blount can finally run behind Trueblood and Davin Joseph, the Bucs running game could really begin to rumble.

Donald Penn needs to step up his pass-blocking.
Donald Penn needs to step up his pass-blocking. /

Pass Blocking

The pass blocking this season has been inconsistent for the Buccaneers. In a couple of games against more prolific defenses this line has been exposed by blitzes and good scheming. Josh Freeman is the type of player that can bail out a team with his mobility from time to time, but right now Freeman is on pace for 30 sacks, a number the Bucs would like to see go down a little bit.

Surprisingly the pass blocking has actually improved on the right side of the line where James Lee has been filling in for Jeremy Trueblood. The number of penalties and hurries coming from that side have gone down substantially in the two games since Trueblood has been out. The other side, Freeman’s blindside is still a liability. Take, for instance, this assessment of Donald Penn’s performance on a sack last weekend by former Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Carlson (courtesy of JoeBucsFan)

"On that particular play, the Falcons had four down defensive linemen and a middle linebacker over center, while the Bucs had an empty backfield. There was no way to be confused in this set, but inexplicably Penn turned right to the inside and blocked nobody, because everybody was being blocked already. This left Josh Freeman, the second year QB, without a clue that his veteran left tackle just left him vulnerable to a potentially season-ending blindside hit and the team vulnerable to both losing their star quarterback and also to the resulting turnover. Pass protection assignments and proper reactions by QB and receivers is one area that needs continued attention for this offense."

The Bucs offensive line looks to be improving in the run-blocking phase of the game but they still need to develop more in terms of their pass-blocking. Josh Freeman is going to keep the sack totals from getting too astronomical, but the 15 sacks the line has surrendered thus far this year would be much higher if not for Freeman’s elusiveness.

Lack of Discipline

As I’ve said before I think the lack of discipline the Bucs display week in and week out definitely comes from the top. This is something Raheem Morris is going to need to get a grip on. The biggest difference between the success the Bucs have enjoyed with Blount in the game and their struggles at the very beginning of the year is simple execution.

The same goes for mental errors by the left tackle that lets Josh Freeman end up on his rear. A lack of discipline anywhere on a football team is bad news, but along the lines it can be absolutely lethal.

Grade: C+

The line has a chance to improve the grade in the second half but it’s going to need to be a lot more consistent, a lot more disciplined. The entire success of the offense is literally predicated on whether or not the Bucs line can execute properly and stay disciplined. That means cutting down on penalties, avoiding mental errors and beating the guy across from you. It’s a lot easier to type that than actually do it though.