Getting up front with Donald Penn
Everyone knows the phrase "larger than life". And then there are the people in life who really embody that phrase to the hilt. People like Donald Penn.
The Buccaneers' starting left tackle is official 315 pounds. The translation of officially being approximately in this case. But he is a Pro Bowl player and a very good pass protector taking on the very best pass-rushers in the NFL.
But Penn is also a team leader, a really funny vocal guy in the locker room and on the practice field, the sort of player that every team needs to have. And you have to remember that he came from literally nowhere to where he is now, an undrafted free agent, signed from Minnesota's practice squad and then inserted into the starting line-up when Luke Petitgout was hurt in Carolina in 2007.
And he has not missed a start since then. His performance has gotten better and better and in a memorable game in San Francisco in 2010, he caught a touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible play.
"We run that every Friday in practice and Free and I always play catch together" he said. "I had been on at Coach Greg Olson for nearly two years to call that play in a game and he finally did it in San Francisco.
"I had to report as eligible to the referee which made him raise his eyebrows as one of our other tackles James Lee had been doing it all game. Then I had to act really cool on the line to make out I was just blocking as normal. Free threw the ball, I was wide open, made the catch and touchdown baby! Click here for the video of the play
"I knew my dad was in the stands behind that goal so I tried to throw the ball all the way up to him, something like 60 rows. It landed a row short and he had a job to get the ball off the guy who caught it.
"But the real kicker to the story is this year's game in San Francisco. 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith was lined up opposite me and told me that coach Harbaugh had singled me out in film and told the defense "don't let that big number 70 catch a pass against us this time round' - beautiful. And sure enough, they were watching me on short yardage plays."
Whilst the Bucs UK were watching practice before the Wembley game, the Buccaneer offense were running their goal-line drills and ran Donald's play just for the British fans watching, resulting in a touchdown. He threw the ball up into the Bucs UK area only for Steve Ford to punt it back on the fly. "NFL tackle injured by kicked football" quipped PR chief Jonathan Grella.
The chant then went up for Donald to run his play again. The Bucs duly obliged to wild cheers and celebrations by fans and players alike with the ball winding up right up in the Bucs UK section, something Donald was still glowing about after practice. "That was so cool of you guys to do that" he said. "But it's gonna cost GM Mark Dominik a ton more next contract if I keep scoring touchdowns."
Penn embodies everything you want in a left tackle in the modern game. Big but agile, agressive and protective. "I don't go in for all that trash-talking and mouthing off at the defense" he said. "I don't want to give them any reason to play any harder or to make them made.
"But if they go after my quarterback or hit him late, then I am going right in there to defend him. Free is my responsibility and I will defend him to the end."
This was Donald's second trip to London having played in the 2009 game and he got a chance to see a lot more of London. But he did get confused at one point during a trip to some of the city's tourist attractions.
"I looked over and saw this guy in a car just paying no attention and not even looking. I thought there was about to be an accident. Then I realised you guys having the steering wheel on the other side and he was just a passenger. Man I got some grief for that one from the other linemen."
And was the Surrey countryside any different to Utah where he grew up and went to college? "For sure. I saw the biggest deer of my life around the hotel one morning. We had deer in Utah but none that size. If I had been hunting, even I couldn't have missed one that size."