Imagine you’re on an episode of Jeopardy. You take “Football” for $400. The clue: “This group can make or break the Buccaneers 2014 season.” In Jeopardy fashion, the answer would undoubtedly be “What is the offensive line?” There are a lot of unknown variables around a team that got completely dismantled this offseason, but the one that I can’t stop thinking about is the o-line. The level of uncertainty got magnified when news broke a few weeks ago of the departure of Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks. Nicks, at even 80% or 90%, would have been a major asset. The line is already on thin ice, and the level of play they showed against Jacksonville to open the preseason was just offensive.
A little over a week ago, I asked some of our WTB? fans to get in touch with their opinions on the state of the offensive line. Daniel ‘BucDaddy’ Shreve and Brian Dorry both weighed in on the potential Jamon Meredith had shown at right guard. I was a little surprised to see him starting at right guard when the first depth chart of the season came out. I wasn’t sold on Meredith, and his performance in the preseason game against the Jaguars didn’t help things.
Meredith has been in the league since 2009 and wasn’t able to keep himself on a roster until arriving in Tampa in 2012. He got an opportunity to start following the season-ending knee injury suffered by Davin Joseph. His play wasn’t horrendous, but Joseph immediately reclaimed his spot in 2013. Meredith has largely been a backup, and I see him remaining one in 2014.
On the second play of the game against Jacksonville, Meredith couldn’t hold his spot and let Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks bust through coverage to pursue a sack on McCown. McCown threw in the direction of Doug Martin, but it wasn’t at all on target due to the hit he suffered. Later in the first quarter, Marks got close enough to McCown to strip the ball while he was getting ready to throw. Of course, Meredith again was the person who couldn’t keep him from McCown. These are just a few examples, but I see Meredith’s mistakes and inconsistency playing him right out of a starting spot. In his place, offseason standout Patrick Omameh is likely to step up at right guard.
On the opposite side of center Evan Dietrich-Smith, Oneil Cousins got the chance to start and show his mettle at left guard. This was also a surprise for me when the depth chart came out. Cousins has been, at best, a career backup. I’ve seen nothing at all to give me the impression that his level of play this year would be any different. Along with inconsistent play overall, Cousins was flagged early in the game for illegal hands to the face. Jags defensive end Ryan Davis was breaking through Cousins exactly like he wanted, and Cousins panicked attempt to stop him drew this penalty while flinging Davis’ helmet off as well. Definitely not a great start.
Unless his consistency becomes drastically better very quickly, Cousins is could easily lose a spot at left guard to rookie Kadeem Edwards. Edwards will have to step up quickly, but he’ll handily snatch his starting position if he continues to perform throughout camp and preseason. Edwards started his entire collegiate career at left guard. He’s got a steep learning curve coming from Tennessee State, an FCS school, but he’s got the elements to hold down the fort at left guard. Draft reports said he had great size, but his technique was sloppy and lax at times. I tend to attribute this to the conference he played in and the level of competition he had to handle, or lack thereof. He got playing time near the end of the game against Jacksonville, but it was hard to see how effective he was due to playing low ranking defenders and dealing with some prevent defense plays. By the time the season finally begins though, I see Edwards starting.
On the outside edges of the line lie the beginnings of the foundation it needs to form for the Buccaneers offense. While the entire line was a shaky, there were at least some consistencies from Demar Dotson at right tackle and Anthony Collins at left tackle. Both men have been impressive in training camp, and will likely have very little issue holding onto their positions by the time the regular season begins. The uncertainty ceases entirely with Evan Dietrich-Smith at center. Dietrich-Smith performed well while he was on the field with no significant mistakes that I saw. All of this arrives at what I see our offensive line being when we face Carolina to start the regular season.
Projected 2014 Starting Offensive Line
Left Tackle: Anthony Collins
Left Guard: Kadeem Edwards
Center: Evan Dietrich-Smith
Right Guard: Patrick Omameh
Right Tackle: Demar Dotson
I have hope for the offensive line, but I shudder to think how the season will go if they show the level of play exhibited in our preseason game against Jacksonville. We’re only one week into the preseason, and I hope someone finds some fast drying super glue to hold the o-line together against the Carolina Panthers menacing defensive front at the beginning of the regular season. Preseason will continue to test them, but the line absolutely has to get better. Do you think this is going to be the Buccaneers offensive line when we play Carolina in week one? Will the line gel fast enough to give our offensive weapons the protection they’ll need? Could this group’s performance directly affect our chances to make the playoffs? Tell me what you think (especially if you think I’m completely wrong) in the comments section below!