Is Zuttah part of a larger plan for Bucs?

For now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers consider Rutgers T Jeremy Zuttah valuable depth. But could he be more down the road? A comment from Jon Gruden on Sunday sent the wheels turning at bucsblitz.com about the situation at left tackle. Do the Bucs already have their future left tackle? Consider that in this analysis.

One little comment can speak volumes in some cases, and they did so on Sunday when Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden was asked about the thought of moving Jeremy Trueblood to left tackle.

"There's been some thought of that," Gruden said.

The selection of Rutgers T Jeremy Zuttah in the third round prompted the question. Zuttah is a natural right tackle. At 6-foot-4, some believe he lacks the elite height to play left tackle. Trueblood, at 6-foot-8, has height in abundance.

Left tackle was considered a position that the Bucs could address over the weekend and here's why. Veteran Luke Petitgout should be healthy by training camp, if not earlier. But he's missed significant portions of the past two seasons with injuries and has just two years left on his current contract. His backup, Donald Penn, is considered a serviceable player and acquitted himself nicely when he played for Petitgout last season.

But is Penn, himself 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, the right guy at left tackle?

One thing is certain. The Bucs will have to address that position by the end of the 2009 season.

Maybe selecting Zuttah was a nod to that predicament.

The rest of the Bucs' offensive line appears set. The Bucs paid Jeff Faine big money to be their starting center for the next six years. Left guard Arron Sears has four more years left on a contract and is coming off an above-average rookie campaign. Right guard Davin Joseph has at least three more years on his deal and is coming into his own.

Then there's Trueblood. The former second-round pick has at least two years left on his contract, but he may be progressing faster than anyone expected.

Despite playing left tackle at Boston College, many didn't consider Trueblood a left tackle candidate in the pros. Scouts loved his height and wingspan, but questioned his footwork and his ability to take on edge rushers, a key part of being a left tackle. The Bucs thought enough of him to take him in the second round and to insert him into the starting lineup early in 2006 when Kenyatta Walker was hurt.

As a sophomore last year some believed he would still struggle against quicker ends. But he obviously made some improvement. Trueblood received a surprise vote for the All-Pro Team, the most exclusive postseason team in the NFL.

Trueblood appears to be tracking into an above-average right tackle. But could that translate into a job on the left side? And is that what the Bucs are thinking?

Consider that if the Bucs stick with their 2007 opening day lineup — plus Faine and minus John Wade — Zuttah will be nothing more than a backup. That's the plan, anyway. The Bucs see him as a player that can backup tackle, guard and center. Zuttah played both tackle positions and a guard position during his college career, and since the Bucs dress no more than eight linemen per game, it's clear Zuttah will have to learn more than just the tackle position.

"He had great test score, great football demeanor, football IQ, tough as heck, and we think he can play tackle, guard or center," Gruden said. "That is why we were very ecstatic to see him there towards the end of the third round."

Say Zuttah can quickly develop into that sort of player. He might be worth his draft pick. But look a year or two down the road.

Petitgout reaches the end of his deal and the Bucs choose to let him go. Penn doesn't develop the way the Bucs hope and they let him go too. What would the Bucs do then?

Well, with the cap space, they could logically go after a left tackle in free agency. But it's just as likely that the Bucs could move Trueblood to left tackle and slide Zuttah, then a two-year veteran, into right tackle.

The Bucs might have addressed the left tackle position had the draft fallen differently. They had interest in Vanderbilt's Chris Williams. Had he slipped to No. 20, the Bucs might have pulled the trigger. They considered tackle a deep position in the draft.

But Zuttah became their pick, and at the least the new tackle gives the Bucs some options — this season and down the road.

But don't expect anything radical this year.

"The plan right now is to leave Jeremy at right tackle," Gruden said.

But expect plenty of speculation down the road.


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com 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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