Some think the Bucs signed offensive tackle Roman Oben to push both second-year left tackle Kenyatta Walker and right tackle Jerry Wunsch for a starting job this season. After all, both players made their share of mistakes last season. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden welcomes competition, but by signing Oben, the team feels they added depth to their offensive line, not a offensive tackle controversy.
"You need depth at that (the tackle) position," said Bucs general manager Rich McKay. "The nice thing about Roman (Oben) is he's a younger guy that can play both sides and has started in the league. That's the message – not intended at all to affect Kenyatta (Walker) or Jerry (Wunsch). We've got to make sure we pay attention to the tackle position."
Other teams were competing with the Bucs for Oben's services. But in the end, Oben said Gruden did a great job of selling him on signing with Tampa Bay.
"I was really impressed with what Coach Gruden had to say to me here," said Oben. "I told him, 'Coach, you don't have to sell me on who you are as a coach or what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done or what your philosophies are because I'm fully aware of what you have done.' But he said, 'Look, I have to sell it to everybody, whether it's you or Keyshawn Johnson or Warren Sapp. He wanted me to help this team go to the Super Bowl. I really felt the genuine concern of him appreciating my abilities and what I have done in starting 77 games. I think Coach Gruden likes veteran guys who can come in and contribute."
After Oben signed a one-year contract with the Bucs, at least one published report suggested Tampa Bay could move Walker over to right tackle – the position he occupied at the University of Florida – and have Oben anchor the starting left tackle position, which would ultimately land Wunsch on the sideline.
At first glance, that scenario doesn't seem too farfetched. But the fact that Tampa Bay re-signed Wunsch to a five-year, $13-million contract last year and traded their second-round draft selection in order to move up in the first round and select Walker in last year's NFL Draft may not make it easy for Oben to unseat either player.
"No, it (moving Kenyatta Walker to the right tackle position) really hasn't been talked about," said McKay. "I wouldn't think that's a real option that we're focused on. We drafted him (Walker) to play the left tackle position."
Although Walker struggled last year, the team was rather pleased with how he progressed throughout his rookie season.
"Athletically, there's nothing you saw that made you say, ‘he can't do this or he can't do that'," said McKay. "I think what you saw was a rookie that struggled at time and did get better and still showed you the traits to be a good left tackle."
Tampa Bay's offensive line played well at times last year, but they were just too inconsistent. That's why the Bucs have shaken up that unit quite a bit.
Former Bucs left guard Randall McDaniel retired just before the start of free agency. Tampa Bay signed free agent left guard Kerry Jenkins and re-signed center/guard Todd Washington. But perhaps the biggest addition came at the coaching position, where the Pewter Pirates landed former Jets offensive line coach Bill Muir. Tampa Bay's offensive line guru was one of the biggest reasons Oben decided to sign with the Bucs.
"I think it has been said that Coach Muir is a meat and potatoes offensive line coach," said Oben. "He has helped coach offensive lines that have succeeded and have had running backs like Curtis Martin rush for 1,500 yards. He knows how to deal with veterans and said to me that he is going to make me a better football player. Coach Muir and Coach Gruden have had success with their offense and they know how to get the most out of people."
Muir welcomed the addition of Oben, who has started 77 games at the left tackle position during his six-year career.
"We welcome his (Oben's) addition," said Muir. "He is an experienced veteran player. He will increase the level of competition and we know for a fact that competition brings out the best in all. He provides us with some alternatives which will allow us to move forward."
Competition is apparently open at all positions at One Buc Place and Oben signed with Tampa Bay knowing he'd be given an opportunity to compete. But even if Oben doesn't replace Walker or Wunsch as a starter, he feels his presence will only help both of those players improve.
"I think that I can bring my athletic ability and initial quickness off the ball," said Oben. "I think my knowledge of the game, starting in 77 games can help guys like Kenyatta Walker and Jerry Wunsch. I'm here to help the football team win and having those skill players at those positions is a plus. I think it's a good marriage for myself, Coach Gruden and Coach Muir and what their offensive philosophies are."
The Bucs have a lot invested in Walker and Wunsch, but Gruden has said that the best player will play in his regime.
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