It seems clear that the Buccaneers have weapons, and Dirk Koetter is exactly the man to use them. However, a lack of weapons was not the achilles heel of the Bucs’ offense in 2014. The backbone of the offense was essentially broken during all of the 2014 Season, and it’s going through extensive surgery going into the 2015 Season.
Some familiar names will remain, but new faces will need to step up in short order to properly form a foundation for Jaboo & The Boys. Some names may shift around on the line, but here they’re placed into the position they have the highest likelihood of starting at. Here’s a look at the mess currently hoping to form that offensive line.
Currently In Stock: Evan Smith, Josh Allen, Ben Gottschalk, Jeremiah Warren, Garrett Gilkey
Hot Commodity: Evan Smith
Due to Expire: Ben Gottschalk, Jeremiah Warren, Garrett Gilkey
Product Notes: The offensive line will be in an intriguing state of flux going into the season, but little of the focus will settle on the man forming the every-down connection with Jameis Winston. Evan Smith didn’t have impeccable play last year, but much of that can be attributed to having little help around him. Josh Allen will push to hold the position at backup, and the rest of the crew will be attempting to earn that same role. Much of this could come down to who is most versatile, and that backup spot will also find competition with players normally suited for guard and tackle.
One example of that is Garrett Gilkey. Gilkey is being cross-trained to compete at guard as well, but the bad taste he left in everyone’s mouth last season won’t do him any favors. Look for Allen to step up and attempt to solidify his spot at backup and prove some versatility. Meanwhile, Gottschalk and Warren haven’t impressed yet…but their competition at back-up isn’t exactly top notch.
Currently In Stock: Logan Mankins, Ali Marpet, Patrick Omameh, Kadeem Edwards, Antoine Everett, Matthew Masifilo
Hot Commodity: Logan Mankins, Ali Marpet, Kadeem Edwards
Due to Expire: Antoine Everett, Matthew Masifilo
Product Notes: The situation at guard almost seems like a no-brainer. After a transitional period, minor injury issues, and having nothing even pretending to be a supporting cast, Logan Mankins could easily step back into pro-bowl form this season at left guard. While Mankins won’t be the mainstay for the next decade, all indications are that he’s in the best shape of his life. After an understandably jarring landing in Tampa Bay last season, he appears to be nestling in as a leader and a veteran role model on a line in dire need of one.
Meanwhile, Ali Marpet is the new kid on the block. Everyone loves to call out his small school roots, but if small school players were unable to play they wouldn’t be in the NFL Draft. They’d probably be in the CFL Draft. Marpet will need some work, but he’s proven himself from the Senior Bowl on. There was some worry after Marpet was out of OTAs on Thursday due to tweaking his hamstring, but Coach Smith quelled that as nothing to worry about. So long as this injury doesn’t become a real problem, Marpet will have the luxury of anchoring next to an experienced Evan Smith, and he should solidify the inside as the starting right guard.
The rest of the gang will be looking to earn spots at backup. Kadeem Edwards has turned some heads working in place of Marpet for the time being, but he has a long way to go. Patrick Omameh showed some promise last season, but not nearly enough to ensure anything. Everett will be given ample opportunity to earn his shot, and Matthew Masifilo might somehow luck out in holding a practice squad spot. Masifilo is the biggest headscratcher on this entire line, because he’s been a perennial practice squad defensive lineman since he arrived in the league. I know the line isn’t that deep…but really? I hope he surprise me, but I won’t hold my breath.
Currently In Stock: Demar Dotson, Donovan Smith, Kevin Pamphile, Edawn Coughman, Reid Fragel
Hot Commodity: Demar Dotson, Donovan Smith, Kevin Pamphile
Due to Expire: Edawn Coughman, Reid Fragel
Product Notes: Logan Mankins may be the veteran on the offensive line, but Demar Dotson is the cornerstone. No one has seen this line go through more than Demar Dotson, and he’s held strong through all of it. Dotson has been a reliable play at right tackle for some time, but near the end of last season he was tested at left tackle. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, he passed this test with flying colors. That proves his invaluable versatility within a group that’s in a state of flux, but optimally Dotson’s cornerstone will be laid at right tackle.
While it’s almost assured that Donovan Smith and Kevin Pamphile will be on the roster, the man that starts is still in question. Smith was the hot pick this year, and Tampa Bay got who they wanted. Despite that, Pamphile was a project last year that may finally be performing at the level they’d hoped he could. This will be a tough fight, but in the end Donovan Smith should do as expected and hold his own. Smith seems confident in his ability to protect the blind side, and we absolutely need someone who can play confident in that position. (Oh, and Coughman and Fragel probably won’t make the practice squad…just saying.)
While the offensive line seems messy, a picture is starting to form. If you were enjoying my choices at “Hot Commodity,” you likely can see the outline of that picture already. Things going according to plan seems uncommon for Tampa Bay, but the Lovie-Licht Connection is trying to change that. The plan? Donovan Smith at Left Tackle, Logan Mankins at Left Guard, Evan Smith at Center, Ali Marpet at Right Guard, Demar Dotson at Right Tackle. It’s a young plan, but it has plenty of potential to hold the line. Later this week, we’ll turn to the defensive side of the ball starting with the makeup of the front seven.