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When the 2012 offensive line looked dominant

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 offseason was a hectic one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They had completed an abysmal season after going 4 -3 before the bye week. The team then faltered by losing nine consecutive games, being outscored 325 points to 156 points. General manager Mark Dominik wanted a new head coach and thought he had one in collegiate offensive genius from Oregon, Chip Kelly. Except, Kelly jilted the Bucs' organization at the last moment, which sent the organization scrambling for a possible head coaching position so late into the process.

In 2011, the Bucs' rushing offense ranked 30th in the league. So they sought a mauler in free agency in left guard Carl Nicks. Here were the starters for 2011:

Tampa Bay Bucs
2011 Starting O-Line
Position Player Age
LT Donald Penn 28
LG Jeremy Zuttah 25
C Jeff Faine 30
RG Davin Joseph 28
RT Jeremy Trueblood 28

Joseph had gone to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and Penn went a year earlier. Nicks had gone to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and 2011. Heading into 2012, there would look to be promise in the offensive line boasting three former Pro Bowlers, all within the past two years.

A couple of names I want to introduce are Ted Larsen and Demar Dotson. Larsen was a sixth-round pick from New England in 2010, but was waived in preseason. Tampa claimed him shortly thereafter. The history of Larsen is he started off as a defensive lineman in college and moved to center for his final two years. Dotson was also a defensive lineman in college. Demar was signed by the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He beat out Trueblood for the starting right tackle position in 2012.

Tampa Bay Bucs
2012 POTENTIAL Starting O-Line Depth
Position Player Age Player Age
LT Donald Penn 29
LG Carl Nicks 27
C Jeremy Zuttah 26 Ted Larsen 25
RG Davin Joseph 29 Jamon Meredith 26
RT Demar Dotson 27 Jeremy TrueBlood 29

There are three former Pro Bowl offensive linemen within the previous two years in that potential starting line-up. That core could have bought a lot more time to develop more players for the offensive line.  Instead, the offensive line became depleted after losing both Nicks after seven games and Joseph for all of the season. Instead, we became treated to this starting line-up after Nicks' injury:

Tampa Bay Bucs
2012 Starting O-Line
(After Nicks went down to injury)
Position Player Age AV
LT Donald Penn 29 8
LG Jeremy Zuttah 26 8
C Ted Larsen 25 7
RG Jamon Meredith 26 8
RT Demar Dotson 27 9
AV is a stat that measures players from pro-football-reference.com

There was some line juggling between Zuttah, Larsen, and Meredith after Nicks went completely down. But those AV numbers are quite respectable. When Nicks went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and 2011, he recorded AV scores of 14 and 20, respectively. Joseph has an AV score of 7 in 2008 and AV score of 9 in 2011, both Pro Bowl years.  Penn scored an AV score of 10 in 2010, the only year he went to a Pro Bowl. Although the makeshift 2012 starting offensive line did put up respectable numbers after Nicks and Joseph fell to injury, it rushed certain players to the forefront rather than take the time to develop.

For example, Zuttah as strictly as a center posted up his best AV score of 9 when playing for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. Meredith career has floundered once he was removed from the RG position. The organization continued to put Joseph in at RG, although he was a former shell of himself. Nicks playing only two games in 2013 caused more line juggling and Larsen was between center as well as LG. Larsen's AV score in 2013 was 2 - A significant drop.

Yet the Bucs still found a way to trade for some former first round talent in RG/RT Gabe Carimi, but plugged him in at LG, where his game followed that of one Ted Larsen, off the map. Zuttah proving he was better at center than at LG was another factor that hurt the team because they could not eventually find a competent LG as Larsen and Carimi both failed.

Former GM Mark Dominik has been hounded by many fans and pundits about how he never drafted offensive linemen. Then when you look at 2012 and identify what Dominik was trying to accomplish, it is a wonderful feat to have accrued three recent Pro Bowl players to play on one line as well as had competition for the center position in Zuttah and Larsen, a 2010 sixth round pick with the Patriots along with Dotson's development to beat out Trueblood at RT. There was a culture of competition heading into 2012 and set stability at LT, LG, and RG with recent Pro Bowlers for a few years or more. In Nicks' case, he was figured to be a mainstay for at least five years.

Although Dominik did not draft any offensive linemen high, he did not expect to lose two Pro Bowlers out of three at the same time.  Dotson was not drafted, but he is our best offensive lineman today. Zuttah, not a Dominik draftee, was more than capable to handle center duties. Gabe Carimi was a former first round pick, but even he could not break in well as he was acquired in a trade for a 2014 sixth round pick. I doubt many teams could withstand the losses of two Pro Bowl guards in unexpected scenarios.

Zuttah could have stayed with the team if it did not go out and signed FA Evan Dietrich-Smith to play center in a zone blocking scheme. Penn was traded away too because he did not fit the zone blocking scheme of the new Lovie Smith regime. The new regime could have addressed the guard position early in the third round, but waited until the fifth round to address offensive line issues. Also, they may be moving Dotson from RT to LT. Yet another scary proposition.  urrently, there are starting holes at tackle and RG. LG Mankins may not last another year. I am not sold on Dietrich-Smith at center.

As badly as many fans bash Dominik, I look fondly to the optimistic potential of that 2012 offensive line. It could have been dominant for many years as Zuttah looked like a great fit at center and Dotson beating out starting RT Trueblood. The team could afford grooming offensive linemen. It is just unfortunate that injuries plagued two Pro Bowl guards for two consecutive years, and in Nicks' case, even longer.  No way to absorb such losses, especially when there were and still are many holes to fill on the roster.