The formula to the Bucs season this year is simple. If the Buccaneers bring their defense into the top-15, bolster the offensive line and maximize the running game, Tampa Bay will be playing football games in January. The missing piece though to the Buccaneer’s Cinderella season is the offensive line depth. It can’t go ignored, and Bruce Arians should be more than aware of it. They are a simple training camp injury away from catastrophe. Though Tampa Bay is hoping for the best obviously.
Behind the expected starting five of Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Earl Watford and Demar Dotson, the Buccaneers offensive line depth becomes rail thin. Especially at right gaurd. With journeyman Watford expected to, for the time being, be the plug and play right gaurd, the Bucs have serious long-term issues at the position. Alex Cappa, as it stands today, does not seem ready to handle a 16-game season manning the right gaurd position. With that said Watford isn’t all that big an upgrade either.
Besides the obvious, the stability of the offensive line does much, much more than just keep QB Jameis Winston upright. A solidified offensive line will open holes and running lanes for emerging running backs like Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones. GM Jason Licht would be especially happy to see a turnaround season for Jones as he failed to surpass 2.0 YPC. A second year pro whom he helped draft in the second round just a year ago. If a team can balance a productive run game with a solid pass attack, they will most likely carry the advantage. The offensive line is key in making it happen though.
Behind just helping the running backs flourish, this also indirectly helps Winston. The franchise QB is a notably efficient play action passer. An effective run game like we’ve seen in the days of Doug Martin during the 2014 season will only make Winston a better QB.
The offensive line helps your running backs take pressure off your franchise guy. That’s the gist. It’s not to say that Barber will become what Doug Martin gave the Bucs those two seasons. If he can come close though, Tampa Bay will be in good hands. It all starts with the men up front, however, and as of right now the situation isn’t a steady one.