Ali Marpet, Offensive Lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will be playing his third position headed into his fourth season in the league. Since Head Coach Dirk Koetter announced this move at the annual owners meetings in April, many Bucs fans have expressed their displeasure at the move. Although, to be fair, many Bucs fans also diagreed with the initial position change for Marpet when he moved from playing Right Guard to Center.
It’s understandable why so many people would have rather had Marpet stay at the right guard position. After all, it was Koetter himself who had touted Marpet as a potential Pro-Bowler at that position in just his second season in the NFL. So why, after what many are calling a “failed experiment” at center (although I would disagree with that assertion), would the team think about moving Marpet to yet another new position at left guard? Last year’s right guard, J.R Sweezy, underperformed and was clearly on his way out of Tampa. It’s no wonder that there are still whispers and questions on social media asking: If the right side of the line underperforms this year, could Ali be returned to a position where he was rather dominant?
Personally, I loved the idea of moving Ali Marpet over to the left guard position, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I didn’t think that the Marpet at center experiment was a failure. Yes, it had its growing pains, but if the team truly saw Ali Marpet as the long term answer at center, then I was ok with suffering through those growing pains to achieve some stability at that spot. In fact, I had said on The PewterCast, a Buccaneers Fan podcast that I host, that the only way I would want to see Ali moved back from center was if the Buccaneers were able to sign or draft a day one starter that would be a legitimate upgrade over Marpet and be a long term solution for the Buccaneers. Enter Ryan Jensen, the free agent center from the Baltimore Ravens who is a day one starter, a legitimate upgrade, and his four year deal makes him enough of a long term solution.
Improving the line as a whole
Second, signing Jensen and moving Marpet to left guard upgraded not just two positions on the team, but I have argued that it would upgrade three positions on the team. By that, I refer to the long established relationship between Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith. The two friends have been training camp roommates for years, and the magic of their chemistry with each other was on display in 2016 when the two hosted the weekly Ali and Donovan Show on Buccaneers Radio. The Offensive Line is one of those units on a team that isn’t plug and play. The group has to have chemistry to function effectively. So, I suspect that having one of his best friends by his side would also help Donovan Smith who, perhaps, struggles the most with consistency. He will dominate on one play, then look like a swinging door on the next.
In fact, the idea that Ali’s move to the left side would help all three positions has left me with a suspicion that perhaps Marpet actually asked to go to the left side.
This week, I was able to get a one-on-one with Ali Marpet, get some clarity about the move, and ask some questions the traditional media core missed. Here’s what I found out:
No, Marpet did not ask to go to the left side.
When asked about this, Marpet said that while the team was in pursuit of Ryan Jensen, “[Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht] sat me down, they said this is the guy we want, he’s going to help our team, and in that case, we’d put you at left guard,” and then unprompted, Marpet followed it up with, “Why? That was their call, but I was all on board cause I know Ryan is a good player and it helps us out.”
Regardless if Marpet asked to go or if Licht and Koetter told him he was going, the important thing to note here is how willing Marpet is do whatever it takes to help the team get better.
2. Marpet and Smith’s relationship will be a factor in how the left side of the line performs.
Marpet said, “I think it’s huge…you want to kinda get to a point where you don’t have to talk, and we’re kinda actually able to do that. We know the offense and we know how each other plays it. I know when he’s going to be thick on stuff and when he’s going to be loose. We already have that dynamic down, so that’s awesome.”
Speaking as a former offensive lineman, albeit never at the professional level, I don’t think I can underscore enough just how important it is for the Offensive Line to not just be the best five individual players, but the best five as a unit. That said, for all the criticism Donovan Smith has taken over his first three years, I expect this to be a breakout year for him, and while the stats won’t say it, I predict it will have had a lot to do with Marpet lining up next to him in the trenches.
3. Don’t expect Marpet to move back to the right side anytime soon, but if he needed to, he could.
“It’s out of my control. If something happens and they ask me to play right guard, then I’ll play right guard. But in the meantime it’s my understanding that I’m playing left guard…I think one of the things at center that helps you out is that you have to set almost as a left guard and a right guard. One of the difficult things about switching is getting your hips to open up. At center you’re able to do that. So I think playing center has helped me be able to transition.”
Marpet was pretty clear that the team’s intention is for him to play left guard going forward. To clarify, for everyone who still thinks Marpet’s time at center in the 2017 season was a waste, I, and Marpet himself, would tell you different.