JEREMY TRUEBLOOD (Starter)
STATISTICS: Started 16 games in 2007.
ANALYSIS: Definitely took a step forward in his development in his second year in the league, to the point where he received an All-Pro vote from SI's Peter King. Trueblood seemed to move better than he did his rookie season, especially when backpedaling to fend off speed rushes. He moved better laterally, too, and actually pulled several times on running plays to the opposite site. It was obvious that when the line was clicking, he and RG Davin Joseph made a formidable combination on the right side. For all the positives, Trueblood must control his emotions. He was fined once for his temper, but drew little criticism from his coaches. If he brings his emotions under control and presses forward in his development, Trueblood appears to have a fine career ahead of him.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Trueblood counts $725,000 against the salary cap in 2008. The Bucs will want him to continue his progress and cut down on the penalties that dogged him at times in 2007.
DAVIN JOSEPH (Starter)
STATISTICS: Stared 16 games at right guard.
ANALYSIS: Like Trueblood, the former first-round pick made progress. He did a much better job of initiating contact up front, getting a push to the second level and being the lead blocker on right side running plays. Joseph did great work on Earnest Graham's touchdown run to the right against New Orleans. Joseph made progress as a pass protector, too, though he still seemed overmatched at times, especially when going up against quicker defensive tackles. Joseph had several inopportune penalties, some of the 15-yard variety. Those came mostly after he had been beat.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Joseph has all the makings of a fine guard, potentially one that could go to the Pro Bowl one day. He's a devastating drive blocker and his pass protection is coming. He's set to count $1.490 million against the salary cap in 2008.
JOHN WADE (Starter)
STATISTICS: Started 16 games at center.
ANALYSIS: Nothing seems to slow down the 32-year old Wade. He still makes great line calls and his experience was invaluable to what became the youngest offensive line in the NFL. The line's younger starters sought guidance from Wade, and in return he kept them on the same page. He handled adjusting to the shotgun snap well and provided adequate protection up the middle. He didn't miss many assignments. He was called for several holding penalties, though, revealing that, at age 32, Wade may be slowing down a tad.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: Wade can opt out of a contract that would count $1.860 million against the salary cap in 2008. If so, he would become a free agent. There's a chance he won't be back in Tampa Bay, especially if he is offered a much larger contract by another team.
ARRON SEARS (Starter)
STATISTICS: Started 16 games as a rookie at left guard.
ANALYSIS: This kid is special. Most of the coaches on the team will tell you that. Outgoing running backs coach Art Valero told a story about Sears' game in Carolina. Panthers DT Kris Jenkins did his best to intimidate Sears before the game and the rookie didn't flinch or respond. He just went about his business. Sears rarely talked, but his actions on the field spoke much louder. He quickly became a reliable run blocker in the offense, and the Bucs like to run to the left side. He even showed he could be a reliable pulling guard late in the year. His pass protection was adequate to start the season and improved with time. His penalties, which were frequent to start the season, also declined. He even played hurt to end the season, revealing his toughness. As learning curves went, Sears attacked his well and showed he has plenty of upside.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's set to count $745,000 against the salary cap in 2008. The Bucs will want to see him progress in pass protection.
DONALD PENN (Starter)
STATISTICS: Started 11 games at left tackle for the injured Luke Petitgout.
ANALYSIS: Penn was tossed into the fire after Petitgout left the field against Carolina on Sept. 30 with a season-ending knee injury. His first assignment? Dwight Freeney. It didn't get much easier from there. Penn had a steep learning curve and eventually caught up to the point where he wasn't a liability to the offense. He showed tremendous work ethic, working with offensive line coach Bill Muir after practice every day and saying that he wanted to be great, not just merely good. The coaching staff was hard on him because they had to be and Penn responded. Like most young blockers, he responded better to run blocking when he first entered the lineup and improved his pass blocking as the season went on. For a young player, Penn also incurred few penalties while protecting Jeff Garcia's blind side.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he can only leave the team if the Bucs fail to extend him an offer. Given his progress and Petitgout's injury, the Bucs are likely to tender him an offer, keep him and have him compete with Petitgout in training camp.
LUKE PETITGOUT (Starter, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: Started four games before a season-ending knee injury.
ANALYSIS: Much was made of Petitgout's missed week of training camp due to a "sore body," as Gruden put it (his euphemism for something more serious. In Petitgout's case it was back spasms). He also rarely played in the preseason, something that caused concern in terms of chemistry for the offensive line. But after a bumpy opening day in Seattle, Petitgout played above-average in his next three games, solidifying the left side and offering Garcia plenty of back-side protection. The Bucs signed him for his pass protection and he didn't disappoint. His run blocking was adequate.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He will count $3.5 million against the salary cap. But don't look for Petitgout to automatically get his job back. Penn made enough progress to allow the Bucs to throw the job open to competition in 2008.
MATT LEHR (Backup)
STATISTICS: Played a few snaps for Wade in New Orleans and most of one game for Sears against Carolina.
ANALYSIS: Lehr didn't make much of an impact, though when he played he performed capably. He was tossed into a hot situation in New Orleans and got the football back to Luke McCown without incident. The Bucs brought him to Tampa Bay for depth, and that's all he did.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's a free agent. The Bucs might ask him back if Wade departs in free agency.
ANTHONY DAVIS (Backup)
STATISTICS: Dressed for nine games. Rarely saw action.
ANALYSIS: This was a big step back for the starting left tackle in 2005 and 2006. He not only lost his job but also lost the left guard job in training camp to Sears. But Davis rarely seemed unhappy in the locker room. He made a few plays as a blocking tight end eligible and worked on special teams.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll count $1.266 million against the salary cap in 2008 — unless the Bucs choose to release him and save the money. Otherwise, he's relatively cheap depth.
DAN BUENNING (Backup)
STATISTICS: Did not play. Was inactive all 16 games.
ANALYSIS: The Bucs perceive him as their center of the future. But with Wade putting a stranglehold on the position in training camp — and Buenning's knee rehab during the offseason — he never had a chance to play.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll make $590,000 in the final year of his contract. If he's the center of the future, it may arrive this year as Wade could leave in free agency and the Bucs could save more than $1 million by installing Buenning as the starter. The Bucs believe the former starting guard can be a more punishing blocker than Wade.
DENNIS ROLAND (Backup, finished on practice squad)
STATISTICS: Spent the season either on the practice squad or inactive.
ANALYSIS: He's tall (6-foot-8). That's about it.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: The Bucs have already signed him to a future free agent contract, meaning we'll see him again in training camp — and likely get cut again in training camp, unless he makes significant progress.
BRIAN JOHNSON (Backup, finished on practice squad)
STATISTICS: Spent the final five games on the practice squad.
ANALYSIS: Did not even see him play in the preseason, since he was with another team.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He was also signed as a future free agent, so the Bucs will spend the offseason getting to know him.
CHRIS DENMAN (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: A preseason injury put him on injured reserve the entire season.
ANALYSIS: He's a big, tall tackle from a college program (Fresno State) that produces those kinds of tackles. But he didn't impress much in preseason.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's signed for $385,000 and will be given a chance to better prove himself this offseason.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.