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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' unheralded O-line keeps offense moving

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Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 12:27 AM
TAMPA -

There's no truth to the rumor that Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line coach Bob Bostad is a master juggler in his spare time.

First of all, when you work on Greg Schiano's staff, spare time is a rare commodity.

Still, Bostad has done a masterful job keeping Tampa Bay's surging offense humming with a collection of moving parts.

"He coaches everybody the same way,'' Bucs lineman Ted Larsen said of Bostad, who joined the Bucs in February after six years as offensive line coach at Wisconsin. "He holds everybody to the same standard, whether you're (Pro Bowl guard) Carl Nicks or you're a practice-squad guy.''

The Bucs head into Sunday's home matchup against San Diego averaging 28 points per game and an NFL-best 6.2 yards per snap.

Those are gaudy numbers, considering left tackle Donald Penn is the only Tampa Bay offensive lineman starting at the same spot as when the Bucs opened the season on Sept. 9.

Right guard Davin Joseph suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third exhibition game and Nicks was placed on injured reserve Oct. 30 with a toe injury that requires surgery.

"Everyone has done a great job filling in, but we don't want to get too comfortable,'' Penn said. "It's been a lot of fun, and you can see that by the way we're playing, but we have to keep building. I'm proud of our guys up front. … I'm probably their No. 1 fan.''

Penn faces stiff competition from quarterback Josh Freeman in that regard.

In Sunday's 42-32 victory at Oakland, Tampa Bay's first score was set up by Freeman's 64-yard strike to Vincent Jackson on third-and-15.

Jackson, who completed the drive three plays later with a 20-yard touchdown catch, had ample time to make a double move on his long reception and Freeman was afforded stellar protection, with plenty of room to step up in the pocket and launch an accurate throw downfield.

"That's definitely a long-developing play,'' said Freeman, who has been sacked only six times in the past five games. "We knew if we could hold them up front, we'd have a shot – and the line did just that. I'd like to have a stopwatch and time that play.''

The depth of Bostad's young unit has been tested through the midpoint of the regular season.

Larsen, who was replaced by Jamon Meredith at Joseph's right guard spot after four games, filled in at center against the Raiders as the Bucs switched Jeremy Zuttah from center to left guard.

At right tackle, Demar Dotson has been starting in place of Jeremy Trueblood since Week 2.

"We're having a lot of fun, playing for one another,'' said Dotson, who had only two NFL starts entering this season. "It starts with our leader, Coach Bostad. He keeps us tight. He's a laid-back guy who preaches technique. This is a next-man-up league and we've got to keep it going.''

Meredith, signed as a free agent in March, hadn't started a game since 2009 before beating out Larsen a month ago.

"We've got a lot of pride as a unit,'' he said. "You can't think about who's playing next to you in this league. If the Lord blesses you with an opportunity to play, you can't take it for granted.''

While Freeman, rookie running back Doug Martin and receivers Mike Williams and Jackson are generating national publicity, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan is thankful for the big bodies quietly doing the grunt work.

"There's no question our offensive line has stepped into a very difficult situation, losing a special player like Carl Nicks,'' Sullivan said. "The unselfishness of a guy like Zuttah moving over to guard and all these guys pulling together … it's important for them to be recognized.''

For Dotson and his cohorts up front, the best may be yet to come.

"It's a credit to how good these guys are to replace Pro Bowlers, not just ordinary guys, and get the job done,'' Dotson said. "We're going to keep it up. We're nowhere near where we're going to be. It's only Week 9. By Week 12 or 13, we're going to be unstoppable.''

 

CHARGERS AT BUCS

Sunday: 1 p.m.TV: Blacked out

 


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833 Twitter: IKaufmanTBO

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