For an offensive tackle making his first NFL start, there can be no more daunting assignment than playing on the road, in a dome, on artificial turf, in Indianapolis, facing Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney.
Welcome to Donald Pennâs world.
Penn is a second-year offensive tackle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a former undrafted free agent out of Utah State who will be asked to replace the injured Luke Petitgout in the starting lineup and slow down Freeney this week.
"Heâs a great player; overall heâs one of the best in the league," Penn said Wednesday about Freeney. "Iâll have my work cut out for me. I just have to get ready for this week, thatâs my main option, my main motive to get ready for this week. Iâve been watching film and stuff, thatâs all I can do."
Petitgout is out for the season with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Tampa Bay could have turned to veteran left tackle Anthony Davis, but the Buccaneers believe Penn is a more viable option.
Pennâs name and skills are unfamiliar to many around the league, but not to those in Tampa Bay. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Penn is considered a good pass protector, capable of protecting quarterback Jeff Garciaâs blindside.
How the 24-year-old Penn fares against Freeney, even with the help the Buccaneers plan to give him on that side, is another question. The Eagles thought second-year offensive tackle Winston Justice, a former second-round pick, would hold up fine against Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Six Umenyiora sacks later, the Eagles recognized they were wrong.
But ever since Tampa Bay signed Penn off Minnesotaâs practice squad last year when the Buccaneers lost Kenyatta Walker to injury, the team has been pleased and impressed with Penn. In fact, team officials think that replacing Petitgout will be less challenging than replacing injured running back Cadillac Williams.
Of course, Freeney, who has only one sack so far this season, is likely to have his say on the matter. It comes Sunday, when Tampa Bay visits Indianapolis.
Returning to the scene
Speaking of Justice, he will struggle to forget his Sunday night at the Meadowlands, when Uminyora treated him like a blocking dummy.
Fortunately for the Eagles, it looks as if they will have their regular left tackle, Tre Thomas, back and manning the left side of the line. Thomas was cleared to resume playing this week, which would signify that Justice will be returning to the bench.
A San Francisco treat
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took away one of New Englandâs two first-round picks in April. But Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard inadvertently did what he could to help out the Patriots.
Without Smith, the 49ers will turn to backup Trent Dilfer, as smart a quarterback as there is and someone eminently capable of getting the job done. But in reality, the 49ers have a better chance at success with Smith.
And if San Francisco struggles over the next month without him, and fails to win some games it ordinarily would, itâs going to improve the Niners' draft position in April.
But remember: While New England has lost its own first-round pick, it owns San Franciscoâs first-rounder from a trade the two teams consummated last April, enabling the 49ers to draft tackle Joe Staley with the Patriots' first-round pick.
The more the Niners lose, the better it is for New England. As if the rich werenât already rich enough.
New England better start getting ready some videotape of the top college prospects.
To illustrate how unusual the first quarter of the NFL season has been, consider this: In one game, Uminyora had six times as many sacks as Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, Rams defensive end Leonard Little and Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor have combined this season.
Of the three perennial Pro Bowl defensive ends, Taylor is the only one to have a sack.
A different Fab Five
If Indianapolis beats Tampa Bay, the Colts would be 5-0 for the third straight season.
The world-champion Colts have the chance to become the fourth.