One of the first things Jeff Garcia did when he came to Tampa Bay was look at game film from last year's 4-12 team. One thing jumped out immediately.
The offensive line wasn't getting the push needed to move the football.
Naturally, when he was asked about last season's offensive woes, he didn't want to point fingers, especially on his new teammates. But he did, ever so gently, point out a critical area.
"I think there were times when, in watching film, the left side of the line struggled a little bit," Garcia said. "Those guys were trying their hardest, trying everything they could to create a good pocket and good running lanes. But I think it started up front."
Last year the Buccaneers remade the right side of their offensive line by drafting guard Davin Joseph in the first round and Jeremy Trueblood in the second round. The pair started 12 games together and the Buccaneers hope they will bolster those positions for the long term.
This year the Buccaneers are out to remake the left side of their offensive line, mainly because of their running woes last season. The run game ranked 28th in the NFL a year ago.
That restructuring began in March when the Buccaneers went out and signed free agent tackle Luke Petitgout. At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, Petitgout is a physical presence with a veteran pedigree, having spent his entire eight-year career with the New York Giants.
Before breaking his leg last season, Petitgout protected Eli Manning's blind side effectively. When he left the lineup, the line's effectiveness dropped markedly, as did Manning's numbers.
He represents an upgrade over last year's left tackle, Anthony Davis, who admittedly struggled in pass protection.
"He's a guy that has the fundamentals (and) the game experience," Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden said. "He's seen a lot of the best (pass) rushers in pro football two, three, four, 12 times. To have him working on the left side is something that were very excited about."
The Sporting News ranked Petitgout as the No. 16 tackle in the NFL last season, well ahead of Davis. He's always impressed scouts with his intelligence and quickness, his comfort in the open field and his ability to redirect inside moves. He doesn't have the elite lower body strength of a Walter Jones of Seattle, and naturally there are concerns about his leg.
He said there are no ill effects from the injury.
"That's certainly why I'm here," Petitgout said. "I feel like I have something to prove. I came off the injury last year and left the Giants not quite like I wanted to."
Petitgout has missed the past three days of workouts with what Gruden describes as "general soreness." Petitgout has had back concerns in the past, but Gruden doesn't seem concerned that Petitgout will be out for the long term. He listed Petitgout as day-to-day on Thursday.
Petitgout's presence doesn't necessarily mean Davis is out of a job. He's working at left guard, and at the moment he's working with the first group. Among the finer attributes of the 6-foot-4, 329-pound Davis is his run blocking. When running back Cadillac Williams rushed for more than 1,000 yards his rookie year, Davis helped pave the way, as the Bucs religiously ran to the left side when they needed a big carry.
Davis should fit in at the position, where good run blocking is an asset and his deficiencies as a pass blocker can be masked.
But he has competition. The Buccaneers selected Tennessee's Arron Sears (6-foot-3, 319) in the second round of the draft and have every intention of giving Sears a chance to win the starting job. He's considered the future at the position, given that Davis' contract expires after the 2008 season.
"He's as advertised," Gruden said. "He's got some real power. He's got some real football instinctiveness that's hard to find in a young player. He's rarely in bad position. He understands the game, and he's going to be a fine football player. We're really excited about Sears. But again, you don't want to give these guys too much praise because normally they have a lousy practice the next day."
Adding to the competition is Matt Lehr, a free agent who can play both center and guard. But Sears and Davis are, at times, sharing first-team reps. And with Davis working out at left tackle for Petitgout the last three days, it's been Sears, not Lehr, who's moved up to the first group.
Davis may start the preseason as a starter, and Sears' progress during camp will dictate whether he has a chance to win the job.
What the Bucs are looking for, no matter what, is consistency across the line. With Joseph, Trueblood and John Wade at center, they now look toward Petitgout and either Davis or Sears to offer then solid play on the left side.
"So many things start up front with the offensive line," Garcia said. "I see that this unit has taken a step in the direction of improving themselves with the physical talent that is on the front line, with the competition that we have up front. Now it's a matter of those guys coming together."
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors.