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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Bucs' offensive line must make difference

LeGarrette Blount moved it out last Sunday at Minnesota, breathing life into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' comeback win. But there were others who did some moving, others up front, and they matter just as much, if not more. But to look at the gaping touchdown holes Blount ran through on his 27-yard momentum-changer and his 4-yard game-winner against the Vikings is to know that the offensive line has to be where it all begins. "If you saw the enthusiasm after we scored the (winning touchdown), especially from the five offensive lineman, it was like a big lift off our shoulders," Bucs Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn said. "OK, we're finally getting it going." They might be the crew that needs to lead the way, against the Falcons on Sunday and right down the line.
"With those guys up front, they are the veteran group for us, the veteran leaders," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We talk about it during the week all the time, we say the wide receivers, they'll bring the energy, but we need the toughness and leadership from our offensive line. We put that on those guys. To me, throughout the season, we'll go as those guys go." It underachieved two seasons ago, rebounded with a rock-solid 2010, and right now there's no unit on this team with as much experience, or that has played together as long or should be more dependable. Penn and right guard Davin Joseph have been to a Pro Bowl. Center Jeff Faine's experience is invaluable. The Bucs have invested dollars in this line, in Penn, in Joseph, even in right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. This team believes in this group, and this group has to come through. That's why that 27-yard touchdown run by Blount was a load off some of those broad shoulders. There was other help, from fullback Erik Lorig, from the receivers, but that hole was there for Blount, a big hole. "As an offensive lineman, there's nothing better," Faine said. "And there's also nothing better than that 4-yard run at the end, to win the game on the run. "We kept pounding the ball, we kept after the run, we didn't abandon it. That was the difference between this and last week. I think it started with us running the ball, with LeGarrette getting his mojo going a little bit, and once that started working, it opened up the play-action. The touchdown pass to (Arrelious) Benn was a play-action." The Bucs abandoned the run against Detroit and had only 56 yards rushing for the game. Through two games, they have 161 yards but a 4.6-yard average — the exact average the Bucs had per rush in 2010, when they had the eighth-best rushing offense in football. Go back to last season, when Blount rushed for 1,007 yards (it could have been 1,009 if he'd hit the right hole for the game-winner at Atlanta). Think the line didn't matter? They also allowed only 30 sacks, 10th best in the league, though Josh Freeman's escape quotient had a lot to do with it. But the point is that this line has to make a difference. "If they can lead the way running the football," coach Raheem Morris said, "with the nasty demeanors that they can have, I really love where they're going and how they're leading this football team, because it starts up front." Jeff Faine was talking about last Sunday's winning touchdown, about how Trueblood and rookie tight end Luke Stocker blew back the defensive end, and left guard Jeremy Zuttah pulled and the hole was there, and then some, for Blount and the game-winner. "We're going up and down the field in a two-minute offense, they haven't used their timeouts and we have two of ours, I think, so the playbook was completely open," Faine said. "And for coach Olson to go back to us, kind of do the opposite of what we did the first week, sticking with the game plan and believing in the run, and for us to run it in to win the game, there was excitement for us up front. It was blocked to perfection. That's the stuff we love. That's our touchdown."
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