In an effort to really gear up for the upcoming Preseason game against the Jets, I'm going to review each of the 10 key areas of the team (OL, RB, WR, TE, QB, DL, LB, CB, S, and Special Teams). These reviews are simply my opinion on where these groups are, and what to look for as the Preseason progresses, and has we hit the regular season.
So first up is the offensive line, which is probably the one group in the most need of getting to the next level of play. Last year's group, which started all 17 games, was adequate, but the run blocking on the right side was lacking, and pass protection from the Tackles, and the right guard was generally poor. Walker continued to struggle opening holes in the running game, and his pass protection, which was average most of the time, would break down at key moments causing so really poor play results, including sacks, and a couple of fumbles. Mahan, who played RG last year, simply could not get push against most DT's he faced during the season. He also was a liability against solid pass rushing DT's. Then there was Anthony Davis who was consistently one the team's best run blocker, but who's lack of quick feet often led to him being easily beaten by speed rushers. Buenning was strong at LG in both the running and passing game, though his pass protection would break down at times due to his lack of experience leading him to take the wrong angle or block the wrong defender. Wade was average in pass pro, and run blocking. Nothing great, nor bad about his game, though he leaves you wanting something a little better at Center.
So how is this year's group looking? Let's go from left to right. At Left Tackle Anthony Davis worked his butt off to get quicker with his feet so that he could get out on his blocks quicker. He's got the size and talent to hold up against even the best DE's, but the lack of quickness has killed him. So far it appears he will be much improved in this area, and should be far less prone to giving up pressures and sacks. I look for him to be even better in the run, and be average, to slightly better at pass pro. At Left Guard, Buenning continues to improve his game, and should be able to take it to the next level, which will allow the Bucs to continue to have success running to the left, despite defensive overloading to that side. He should hold up even better against the pass rush with more experience and a better understanding of what he's seeing from the defense. He had better be, too, because Fonoti will continue to push him. Fonoti has reportedly been impressive in the running game, but less so in pass pro. So Buenning will probably continue to start, but he's not a 100% lock, and needs to remember that. Wade and Mahan will battle it out all summer for the Center spot. So far the competition is helping both players look better, but neither is looking like an All-Pro. As long as the play improves some over last year, it should be good enough.
At Right Guard, Jeb Terry appears on his way to do what he was doing last year, which is win the starting spot. Right now, Joseph's lack of knowledge of the offense, and how to attack the NFL game, is giving Terry the edge he needs to beat out the better athlete. Last year, before being injured, Terry looked to be one heck of a run blocker and a solid pass blocker. He appears to be doing that and a little more this summer, and should end up starting, though it's unlikely he will permanently retain that spot. Joseph looks strong in the running game, but his pass pro needs work, which is expected considering the differences in speed and power of the DT's in the NFL. He may not start this year, though I wouldn't bet against him, but he as the ability to be pretty dominate at his position and will likely be the 2007 starting RG unless Terry turns into a Pro-Bowl caliber player. Either way, the Bucs will have a much better situation at Right Guard this season, and will be able to run to the right, at least as far right as the guard spot. At Right Tackle is Walker and Trueblood. Walker's issues are well known around here. Last year he started the season playing pretty good, but seemed to slip back a little as the year went on. I don't know is his knee problems are getting to him as the season progresses, but Walker seems to be unable to really breakthrough and perform to his physical ability. So far, it looks like he will continue to play pretty much the same as last year, which is barely adequate for what the Bucs want out of their RT spot. Trueblood will continue to get a lot of reps and seems to be improving by the day. Too many observers, he seems to be progressing faster than Joseph, and could possibly push Walker out of the starting RT spot. He'll need a big Preseason to do it though, as his pass pro still needs a lot of work. He's good at times, then at others, he gets beaten with regularity. He has the physical traits to be a good RT, but time may be required.
Overall, this unit is certainly deeper this year than last. With Terry, or Joseph taking over the RG spot, and with Davis noticeably improving his quickness off the line, the Bucs offensive line should be able to start turning into a very solid unit this year. If this group remains healthy all year, they should be close to their potential around week 6 or 7. They should be more balanced in the run, and defenses should find it a little hard to blow by Davis, or the RG, to get in Simms face. I still have concerns with the RT spot, but we'll see how it goes. In general, this line will probably reduce the sack count by 5-10 sacks this year, and reduce the pressures around10%. They still won't be stellar, but with all the talent at the skill positions, it should be adequate enough to help the Bucs' offense move way up the charts this season, and put a good number of extra points on the board compared to last year. That's a start, and this young talent is only going to get better.