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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Penn returns to Bucs' practice with pep in step

Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 12:38 AM

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano had no intention of easing Donald Penn back into a grueling practice routine today, which was fine with the Pro Bowl left tackle.

Penn was on the sideline with a sore calf for almost a month, so was itching to get back on the field. Besides, he's been ready for action for almost a week now, though Schiano and Mark Dominik held him out.

"Coach Schiano and Mark said that when I get healthy they still want me to take another week to get it stronger, and I think they did a good job with that," Penn said.

"My hat's off to (strength and conditioning coach Jay Butler) and (trainer) Todd (Toricelli) because my legs are probably stronger now than they've been in a while and that's great coming off an injury.''

It certainly qualifies as great news for the Bucs. With Penn out the lineup on Friday, the offensive line struggled to open running holes and protect the passer during a 30-7 loss to the Titans at Raymond James Stadium.

Penn's return means a unit that added new cogs in left guard Carl Nicks and center Jeremy Zuttah finally can start to develop some chemistry and cohesion. Still, it may be a while before Penn hits his stride.

Though Penn felt fine physically during the two-and-a-half hour workout at One Buc Place, he admitted he's going to need some time to regain the form he usually displays at this time of year.

"I think I'm good on the protections and the run plays, because I've been studying them in the meetings and stuff,'' he said. "But I have to get my footwork (right) and I played super high today.

"That happens on everybody's first day, and my feet were like they are on everybody's first day. But it was good to get some of the cobwebs off. These guys have set a standard here and now I have to catch up.''

The Bucs have a different standard for Penn. The six-year, $41.7 million contract he signed in 2010 includes $600,000 incentives in the second through the sixth years that can be earned only by maintaining a specified weight. Schiano would not provide specifics, but said his desire to make sure the 6-foot-5, 340-pound Penn came back to work at his specified weight played into the team's decision to hold him out an extra week.

"We wanted him to be at a weight and at a conditioning level that we think he can be effective at,'' Schiano said. "He looks good, I think. It's the best I've seen him look by far, so there could actually be a silver lining in this whole thing.''

That silver lining will appear only if Penn plays with more consistency. Though he flashed his Pro Bowl form at times last season, Penn also was guilty of mistakes Schiano said are often crippling to NFL offenses.

"There were some things that were and would be hard to overcome,'' Schiano said. "You know – sacks, penalties. (NFL) defenses are too good (to overcome those mistakes).''

The critique did not come as a surprise to Penn. At the end of last season, he said he failed far too often during the season to play up to the team's expectations. That's one reason he was so eager to get back on the field.

The other is a personal streak Penn has for appearing in practices and games.

"I've never really missed practice before in my career,'' said Penn, who has not missed a start since taking over as the starting left tackle on Oct. 7, 2007. "I'm never hurt, and if I am I usually play through it.

"So, (the calf injury) put a little damper on things, but I got through it real fast and now I can start working on getting better. That's why I was itching to get back and be with the guys and get the pads on.''

rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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