Improved Bucs still have room for OT upgrade

Posted April 29, 2012 @ 10:49 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

The Buccaneers’ draft class is being heralded as one of the best in the league. GM Mark Dominik deftly moved up and down the board to land his targets and they filled the team's most glaring needs with the first three picks, drafting potential Day One starters in S Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin and OLB Lavonte David in the first two rounds.

Since trading up two spots to draft QB Josh Freeman in the first round of the 2009 draft, the early focus of Dominik’s last three drafts has been restocking a defense that lost much of its veteran core in the past half a decade. The goal moving forward for Tampa Bay is to build a roster with fewer gaping holes to fill so that they have maximum flexibility when they are on the clock.

Adding a missing link to Freeman’s offensive line — offensive tackle remains an area of the roster with room for significant improvement — could be a game changer for the Bucs, who have not spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman since ’06, when they drafted OG Davin Joseph.

While Matt Kalil, the highest-rated offensive tackle in this year’s draft, would have provided the big upgrade the Bucs could use, selectinghim would not have been an option for the Bucs even if they had they kept the No. 5 pick. Kalil was drafted fourth overall by the Vikings and the Bucs traded down to the No. 7 slot with the intent to take Barron.

The Bucs will head into the season with Donald Penn protecting Freeman’s blind side and Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle, but Trueblood, who is only a serviceable player, is in the final year of his contract. Penn has put on weight during each of the past two seasons and has struggled to match up against good quickness and speed. He allowed a career-high nine sacks last season, according to STATS, LLC.

The strength of the Bucs’ offensive line is the interior. Joseph was re-signed last offseason and the Bucs re-signed Jeremy Zuttah to replace Jeff Faine as their starting center before investing heavily in free agency to land Carl Nicks, one of the league’s best guards.

Finding Freeman a high quality protector off the edge remains a bit of unfinished business for Dominik.

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