In 2008, the Buccaneers had one of the most promising offensive lines in the NFL. They had young players at every position, and those young players performed at a relatively high level. If the Bucs would be able to keep that line together, it had the potential to be dominant. It was the kind of unit a team could seemingly be built around.
And then, doomsday hit. Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were fired, as was Gruden's long-time offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir. While the firings of Gruden and Allen got the most attention, it is perhaps Muir's leaving that had the biggest impact on players. Muir has a reputation as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league, and the players the Bucs had drafted at that point fit well with his power-man blocking scheme. That could have been a very productive and long-term relationship, but the Bucs decided to restart everywhere.
Getting rid of Muir allowed the Bucs to hire Jeff Jagodzinski as offensive coordinator and Pete Mangurian as offensive line coach. The Bucs immediately moved to a zone-blocking scheme which didn't really fit the strengths of the offensive line. To make matters worse, standout left guard Arron Sears never showed up in the offseason and has since left football because of mental health issues. We've seen the result since then: this offensive line collapsed in 2009, and didn't look much better in 2010. But the addition of Pat Morris could turn this offensive line around.
While the Bucs are expected to run more man-blocking plays than zone-blocking schemes, they will still run both a decent amount of the time. Pat Morris prefers big maulers as his linemen, but he still ran a predominant zone-blocking scheme in Minnesota. He has said that he will continue to run some zone-blocking as well as man-blocking schemes. That's not bad: every team runs both man and zone plays. The difference is which plays are considered the bread-and-butter plays: the plays the offensive line can run and win on consistently. Those plays should be man-blocking schemes with this group.
Thankfully, Pat Morris has consistently shown the ability to improve the performance of an offensive line, at least in running blocking. It's nearly impossible to use sacks to analyze an offensive line's performance in pass blocking, as you are often measuring a quarterback's feel for pressure and willingness to throw the ball away instead of the line's quality as a pass-blocking unit.
But the same can't be said for run-blocking which, although still a function of a running back's quality, is easier to tie to an offensive line's performance. Football Outsider's Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) is probably the best statistic for that, as it tries to separate the line's blocking on short runs from a running back's open-field running on longer runs. And looking at the lines Morris coached through the years, the results are promising.
In 1999 he took over a San Francisco offensive line that ranked 1st in ALY, and took it all the way to 8th. Wait, that's not actually any good. And no, it isn't, but Morris was also the assistant offensive line coach on the unit that ranked 1st in 1998, so he deserves at least some credit for the ranking. In addition, the rest of his tenure with the 49ers was very impressive. Despite multiple personnel switches, the 49ers ranked in the top 10 in ALY in each of his 5 seasons as the offensive line coach. That's pretty good.
Then, in 2004 he took over a Detroit line that ranked last in the league in 2003, and immediately improved that ranking to 22nd and 14th in his two years coaching the Lions' line. After he left Detroit, he signed on with Minnesota. And at that point we can see yet another clear improvement: the Vikings went from 31st in 2005 to 13th in 2006 under Pat Morris. Throughout his first three years the Vikings' line ranked around 13th, while it ranked 20th in 2009 and 11th in 2010.
All of this suggests that Morris will at the very least immediately improve the Bucs' run-blocking, a much needed improvement as the Bucs have struggled to consistently open holes for their running backs.
One issue that is not going to disappear, however, is pass blocking. Penn had a solid season and is a pretty good pass blocker, while Jeff Faine holds up well in the interior. Ted Larsen showed the ability to perform well as a pass blocker at times, but he was inconsistent and lacked power. If he shows improvement from last year, that will help the pass blocking a great deal. The right side of the line will continue to be a problem, though. Joseph was always a better run blocker than pass blocker, though he's hardly a liability in pass protection.
The same cannot be said for Jeremy Trueblood, who is the weak link in pass sets for this offensive line. If he starts, he will either need to return to his 2008 form, when he was adequate, or Josh Freeman is going to have to run around again. With the team's best pass-blocking running back moving to the St. Louis Rams, that could be a significant problem. Trueblood has shown he could be at least decent in the past, but has been anything but over the past two years. James Lee fared better as a pass blocker and should earn the starting job just on that note, but it remains to be seen whether that will actually happen.
While Pat Morris will undoubtedly improve this offensive line's run blocking, pass blocking will be a problem, especially on the right side. While Freeman can compensate for poor offensive tackles in pass protection through hot routes and scrambling, that is far from an ideal situation, especially for an offense that should be built around the quarterback.