Gruden happy with O-Line's progress

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their organized team activities this week, Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden took time out to talk about the progress of his young offensive line, including the status of injured left tackle Luke Petitgout.

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Even Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden admitted that it's not a "sexy pick." Taking an offensive lineman in the first round almost never is.

So selecting Davin Joseph in the first round two years ago at No. 25 overall didn't set many hearts afire. But today Joseph is the captain of a young, but talented, offensive line the Buccaneers hope they made better this offseason by signing Saints center Jeff Faine to the richest free-agent deal ever given a center — $37.5 million.

"I think to have him in there with Davin and (Aaron) Sears gives us an inside three that can rival anybody in the league," Gruden said. "That's exciting."

Faine's signing makes the Bucs' offensive line even younger. Faine, a first-round pick for the Cleveland Browns in 2003, is only 26. Joseph is 24. Sears, a second-round pick last season who started all 16 games at left guard, is 23. Jeremy Trueblood, a second-round pick in 2006, is 24. He received a vote to the All-Pro team after his 2007 campaign.

That leaves the Buccaneers with one of the youngest offensive lines in pro football, and Gruden appears committed to seeing if this group can finally give the Bucs the stability up front they've craved for years.

"We've taken on first rounder in Davin Joseph and he's delivered for us," Gruden said. "He's gotten better, a team captain, a leader-type. Sears and Trueblood are two good solid picks in the second round. And Jeff Faine will be the ringleader of that group. He'll be a veteran presence and he'll play the position better than I think we've had it played in a long time."

There is obvious excitement in Gruden's voice when he talks about Faine, who was traded to New Orleans in 2005 after the Browns signed LeCharles Bentley to what was then the richest free-agent contract ever awarded to a center. The Bucs have Faine locked up for six years — arguably the prime of his career — and they consider him an upgrade over last year's starter, John Wade, who is now 33 years old.

Wade signed with Oakland last week.

"When we look at the tape, we think he's a heck of a center," Gruden said. "He makes all the calls, (he's a) second level blocker, his athleticism allows him to block back on the shaded noses. He's physical. Sometimes nasty."

So as OTAs begin Tuesday, there's only one real question — left tackle. Veteran Luke Petitgout, who will be 32 on opening day, is coming off knee and back injuries from last season, the former ending his season. Gruden said Petitgout likely won't participate as much during OTAs as the rest of the linemen.

"Luke is looking good," Gruden said. "He's had his knee taken care of, his back taken care of. He seriously looks good. He's eager to get started. He'll start training camp."

So third-year tackle Donald Penn — who started the final 11 games of 2007 for Petitgout — will see the majority of the work during OTAs. Penn, an undrafted free agent out of Utah State, will be 25 on opening day. Should he start, that would give the Bucs — barring injury — five starters 26 years of age or younger.

"We like our line," Gruden said. "It's getting better."

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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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