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Coach likes depth of offensive line

By ROGER MILLS
Published June 13, 2004

TAMPA - Though not set in stone, the Bucs offensive line is beginning to take shape.

The decision to trade Roman Oben to the Chargers not only establishes Derrick Deese as the left tackle, it likely means improved chances for Kenyatta Walker and Anthony Davis, who coach Jon Gruden said has "opened some eyes," to be backups.

John Wade is at center and Todd Steussie at right tackle with Matt O'Dwyer and Matt Stinchcomb the front-runners at right and left guard, respectively.

"We're going to try to zoom in on our starting offensive line and try to have a competitive group right behind them," Gruden said. "It's going to be a competitive camp."

Very much so. The Bucs have been equally pleased with guard Jason Whittle and second-year guard Sean Mahan. Add to the mix a returning veteran such as Kerry Jenkins, who took a roster bonus cut to stay, and worries about the line of scrimmage could be minimized.

"It's awfully hard to evaluate the line really until you put the pads on," Gruden said. "But we like where we're going. We do like the fact that we've got a lot of returning players that know our system. We think Whittle is going to be a better player this year given his health.

"We still have Kerry and Kenyatta, and (left guard) Cosey Coleman will be back in training camp. We've added some guys that will give us some real interesting play and, hopefully, make us an improved unit."

One person who stands to benefit from the new line is quarterback Brad Johnson, who took quite a beating last season.

"Obviously, we have five new starters from the Super Bowl year, so a lot of things have taken place," Johnson said. "(The line) is a little bit bigger, so hopefully, we'll have a better running attack and stay away from penalties and still be effective in the passing game. I'm very pleased with what's happening right now."

ANOTHER SLICE, PLEASE: Coleman's future with the Bucs appears to hinge on how quickly he can recover from surgery. Coleman recently had stomach surgery, has missed the bulk of the offseason workouts and isn't expected back until training camp.

"He's got to get back to the training table and eat again," Gruden said. "I bet he lost about 15-20 pounds. He's getting his strength back. The girth, the size will come back. When they did the operation, (team doctor) Joe Diaco told me that he never had to cut through that much muscle. He's going to be a quick guy to recover.

"We hope to use the remainder of the offseason program to get three square meals down there daily, and I'll send him a pizza twice a week and get that mass back on."

STANDING HIS GROUND: With three more organized workouts, no one is expecting receiver Keenan McCardell, unhappy with his contract, to show up. And even if he can be fined for each missed practice, McCardell's presence at mandatory minicamp (June 22-24) isn't likely either.

"I think it's serious any time you have a player that is not here for reasons that are well-known," Gruden said. "But at the same time, you have to deal with the cards that are dealt to you. You have to continue to move on. In the meantime, you've got to take advantage of the time you have with the other players."

The glass-is-half-full approach makes sense for the Bucs because increased opportunities are critical for newcomers such as Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton and returners such as Charles Lee, who played only eight games in 2003. Nonetheless, the Bucs have no idea when McCardell will show. "I can't even comment. I don't want to make any predictions," Gruden said. "He's going to do what he feels is right for him, and we're going to try every way we can to get him in here.

"He knows how important he is to us, and we'll see what happens."

[Last modified June 12, 2004, 23:37:23]

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