Buccaneers’ Offensive Line: A Deeper Look

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the season on Sunday Night Football with possibly one of the deepest rosters they have ever fielded. In what is likely Tom Brady’s last season depth will be key to surviving the gauntlet of a regular season and maintaining strength in the playoffs. There is however one position group on the offense weaker than the others and a cause for concern.

The Offensive Line

Starting with the tackle position the Buccaneers have a pair of strong bookends to anchor this offense. Ultimately they have a top-five tackle in Tristin Wirfs and a top-fifteen tackle in Donovan Smith. Both stout and durable players are ready to set the tone and build off already impressive careers. Fans know them well so lets take a look at the rest of the squad.

Behind the forementioned are two unheralded backups.

First, is Fred Johnson. Johnson came over from the Bengals this season after three years with the team. During that time he filled in admirably when required. Over that three year span Johnson amassed 725 total snaps. Of those snaps he filled in 414 times at left tackle, 130 at right, and 144 at right guard. In all those snaps he has allowed three sacks, seven hits, and 15 hurries. Posting no less than a 91.4% pass blocking efficiency (Pro Football Focus signature stat) in any season. Ultimately, if needed to be be called upon he can fill in and have reasonable results.

Second, Josh Wells, who has been with the Buccaneers for the last three seasons rounds out the position group. Since joining the Buccaneers he has totaled 129 snaps at left tackle and used sparingly at right (88 snaps in 2019). His weakest attribute is his run blocking. He lacks the ability to keep attackers engaged at times. But he plays fairly well in pass blocking. In 2020 he filled in 111 times at left tackle and only allowed two sacks, hits and hurries. Though he shouldn’t be counted on as a long term replacement he can fill in when needed for short stints.

Starting Right Guard

Earlier in the offseason Jason Licht traded for Shaq Mason. At the time an under the radar trade, will prove to be a brilliant move this season. Mason grades out as 4th out of 82 qualified guards last season. In fact h’s been in the top ten ever year other than his rookie season. With 5,920 snaps at right guard and over 600 more at left, Mason has only allowed 14 total sacks in his career. Couple that with his solid run blocking and the Buccaneers have themselves an amazing talent.

Starting Left Guard

The rookie is at guard is on the left side. Converted tight end, to tackle, and now guard, Luke Goedeke gets the nod to start. Drafted in the second round Luke has shown flashes of a tenacious attitude during joint practices and some missteps during games. His intellect and time he spends studying tape have been touted as a huge reason coaches are optimistic about his abilities. If he can pull it together and play at an above average level the offense stands a good chance at being successful.

With all the positives there still seem to be some negatives that need to be worked out. Ultimately he’s the first area of concern on this line.

Backup Guard

Sitting deeper on the depth chart at guard is Brandon Walton. A relative unknown commodity, Walton has earned praise in training camp. He poses the size and and long arms to keep defenders out of reach. At this point he may be finally coming into his own as a player but questions still remain. His ability to stick to this roster can be attributed to his versatility along the line.

We’ll have to continue to watch his development as he is currently the only backup guard.

Center

There is no doubt the loss of Ryan Jensen hurts. But last seasons third round pick Robert Hainsey may be prepared to step up in his place. Hainsey played sparingly last season. 31 snaps total in fact. In this small sample size he allowed no sacks, pressures, or hits. This makes it hard to provide analysis on his future productivity. Though a big indication that Hainsey is ready came rather early in camp. After Jensen went down fans, including myself, immediately turned to the free agent pool to replace him. Ultimately, Todd Bowles and his staff didn’t blink an eye. Rather, they propelled Hainsey into the spot light. To bolster the teams confidence in him, they were rewarded with strong play this preseason.

He’s still concerns me but not nearly as much as Goedeke.

Backup Center

If Hainsey is a cause for concern his backup is too. Nick Leverett currently sits second in line for center and has been a practice squad member for the Buccaneers for a few years now. In his largest role, Leverett played 57 snaps at left guard in the week 12 game last season against the Colts. He didn’t fare well. He allowed one sack, three hurries, and four pressures. Add that to the two penalties and its safe to say it was not a great performance.

If Hainsey goes down with an injury the Buccaneers may then turn to the free agents left.  They may have to coax J.C. Tretter out of retirement.

Final Thought

The line consists of three players (Smith, Wirfs, and Mason) who posses elite skill sets and anchor this offensive line. But questions still remain with week one looming over the horizon. First, can Goedeke quickly adapt to the NFL and limit mistakes? Second, could Hainsey really be the replacement for Jensen he was drafted to be? Lastly, can they all mesh together to form a cohesive unit?

After watching tape and reading about each players progress I do feel this line will come together. I just don’t know how long it will take. The first four games of the season are daunting and pose a real threat to the Buccaneers starting slow and having to fight their way back into it. Either way, it’s going to be an exciting season.

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