It all starts up front and the Bucs spent some top dollars and draft capital to improve their offensive line. Have they done enough?
Tampa Bay lost G/T Kevin Pamphile to Tennessee and Center Joe Hawley to retirement
Tampa Bay’s biggest splash on offense this off-season was the signing of Center Ryan Jensen, formerly of the Ravens, to a mega-deal. The move enabled Tampa Bay to move Ali Marpet to left guard. In addition, Tampa Bay drafted Alex Cappa from tiny Humbolt State and signed UDFA’s Cole Boozer from Temple and Rueben Holcomb from Indianapolis.
Other newcomers include some youngsters trying to prove they’re not camp meat in Michael Liedtke, Brad Seaton, and Givens Price.
At Left Tackle, Donovan Smith remains one of the lightning rods of criticism for Bucs fans. Drafted in the second round and expected to lock down that LT position for a decade, Smith has been inconsistent, at times appearing to be a little slow off the snap and it’s caused some bad tape to show up. When he’s on, Smith can be downright dominant.
Instead of moving Ali Marpet back to right guard, Tampa Bay decided to give Marpet the important position of left guard, next to his draft partner Smith. Marpet has been the Bucs best lineman since being drafted out of tiny Hobart College.
Jensen is the unquestioned starter at Center. The Bucs hope that he brings a nastier edge to the line, in the vain of Hawley, but with his larger frame provide more of a pocket for Jameis Winston to work with.
Right guard is a trouble spot for the Bucs, as JR Sweezy, who was expected to be the man there, can’t stay healthy. It’s opened the door for youngster Caleb Benenoch and Alex Cappa to challenge for the starting job.
Demar Dotson will be the RT if his body can hold up. He’s entering his 10th season with the Buccaneers, one of the longest-tenured Bucs on the team.
Leonard Wester, Benenoch, Cappa and veteran Evan Smith are considered the Bucs’ top backups. There is an opportunity for youngsters like Adam Gettis, Cole Boozer and Cole Gardner to challenge for a roster spot. Not to mention the assortment of other guys we mentioned in the additions section.
Improvement or No?
Yes, the Bucs are significantly improved at center, no knock on Ali Marpet, but he’s not the same player as he is at guard. The Bucs haven’t had a solid left guard since Logan Mankins retired, so Marpet joining alongside Donovan Smith should be a huge benefit for both players. The worrisome spots are on the right side of the line. If Dotson is healthy (he missed OTA’s and minicamp recovering from knee surgery), then RT is locked down. Sweezy’s health has been an issue since coming to Tampa Bay, so it’s a huge question whether he can recover and be what the Bucs hoped they were getting when they signed him to a pricey deal in 2016. If not, the young Benenoch or the rookie Cappa will have to fill-in, and that shouldn’t make anyone beam with confidence.