Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let Friday night’s game slip away in the last few minutes, they experienced a lot of early success. It’s fair to say that offensive line play was a key component of that success.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were lights out early on. They moved the ball through the air and on the ground at will against the Lions in the first half. This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for a dominate performance by the offensive line. Making this performance even more impressive, was that they were very thin at the position.
Smith and Marpet should lock-down the left side.
We’ve known since before training camp began that Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet were going to be the starters on the left side of the line. Smith suffered a knee sprain last week in practice and won’t be quite ready for the season opener. Marpet missed Friday’s preseason game with ankle soreness. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into anything major. Marpet is a great young player but he has been plagued with ankle issues early in his career. With these two healthy I think its safe to call the left side of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line above average and, dare I say, dominant?
The addition of Jensen.
One of the biggest moves Jason Licht made this offseason, was the signing of Ryan Jensen. From what we’ve seen up to this point in the preseason, Jensen appears to be worth every penny the Glazers are paying him. The center position has needed upgrading here in Tampa for a long time. While I loved the fight in Joe Hawley, he was just too small too be playing offensive line in the NFL. Marpet tried to transition to center last year but let’s face it, he belongs at guard. Jensen is huge for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on two fronts. Obviously he locks down the center position for the foreseeable future. Secondly, the acquisition of Jensen allows Marpet to move back to guard where he belongs. I expect the toughness and attitude Jensen brings to be contagious and elevate the play of the rest of the line.
Questions about the right side.
The right side of the line remains a bit of a mystery. Demar Dotson is the right tackle, if healthy. That’s a big if. Dotson is the longest tenured Buccaneer, but has he started to wear down? He’s missed significant time due to injury the last two seasons and he had knee surgery this offseason. Dotson was having quite possibly the best year of his career last season until injury cut it short. If Dotson can get healthy he’s a quality starter. Right guard is where things get even cloudier. Early on in training camp, it appeared that Caleb Benenoch was almost a lock to get the starting nod. Benenoch appears to have suffered a minor knee injury and Evan Smith has been getting more reps in the preseason. Smith has played well, but his true value to this team is his versatility. He can play any of the three interior positions along the line. I would like to see Benenoch earn the starting job. While Smith is serviceable, its no secret that Benenoch has the greater upside. You probably expected to see Alex Cappa mentioned here. I don’t think there is any chance of him being a day one starter. With time I think he will be a starter but Cappa is raw, he needs time to develop as a player and hone his technique. I know Cappa was drafted as a guard, but I think he may end up being the heir apparent to Demar Dotson.
What about depth?
Quite honestly, the Bucs don’t have a ton of quality depth on the offensive line. Evan Smith provides the most depth and as mentioned before can play all three interior spots. Cappa can step in at guard, but he doesn’t bring much versatility. That leaves Leonard Wester and Michael Liedtke. Wester has spent a couple seasons with the team now as a back up tackle. Outside of the preseason, he has had limited action. Liedtke has seen his role with Bucs expand since the injury to Donovan Smith. He started training camp at guard but has moved out to tackle and started in place of the injured smith against the Lions. Much like Wester, Liedtke lacks experience and is a bit of an unknown.
Barring further injury I think the offensive line, as a unit, will be above average. Donovan Smith is the biggest question mark here, just how bad is that knee injury? With Smith, Marpet, Jensen, Benenoch, and Dotson on the field Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans don’t have much to worry about. If any of those starters go down for an extended period things could get ugly fast. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jason Licht looking for some depth at tackle following the upcoming roster cuts. All that aside, I think this could be the best offensive line we have seen in Tampa in a long time.