Anthony Collins ready to protect blind side

TAMPA, Fla. – At a news conference to introduce the Buccaneers' two newest players, Anthony Collins was seated to Josh McCown's left.

That was more than appropriate because that’s where Collins will be spending much of his time. Continuing with their full-fledged overhaul, the Bucs signed Collins to a five-year, $30 million contract Thursday. They promptly released veteran Donald Penn, who previously played left tackle. That’s where Collins is going to line up as McCown’s most important protector.

“He is a natural left tackle,’’ general manager Jason Licht said.

But Collins hasn’t followed a natural path to get to where he is. With the Cincinnati Bengals since 2008, Collins has only 25 career starts and he’s bounced between both tackle positions and guard.

“I’m ready,’’ Collins said. “I’ve been waiting for six years.’’

Collins caught the attention of the Bucs with what he did last season. An injury to Andrew Whitworth opened the way for Collins to get seven starts.

“Watching all the tackles this year, he’s the one that jumped out the most to me,’’ Licht said. “It was such a surprise to see a guy thrown into the starting lineup and to actually see their team perform better. That’s not a knock on any player. He has great feet. He has great athleticism and he plays very hard. I don’t want to say he came out of nowhere because everybody’s been aware of Anthony for a long time. But when he got his opportunity, he performed exceptionally. We felt very lucky to get him and I don’t think he’s hit his prime yet.’’

There’s no question the Bucs are doing some projecting with this move. But I think it’s a step in the right direction as they rebuild their offensive line. Penn was getting older and he didn’t have a good season last year. Collins has plenty of upside and he said he is more than ready to protect McCown’s blind side.

“Patience is a virtue,’’ Collins said. “Now is my time.’’