Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What the starting offense should look like

3 of 3

Jun 16, 2015; Tampa Bay, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet (74) and tackle Donovan Smith (76) during minicamp at One Buc Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive line: Donovan Smith (LT), Logan Mankins (LG), Evan Smith ©  Ali Marpet (RG), Gosder Cherilus (RT)

This is a unit that has to put last season behind them in order to succeed in protecting Winston. If they cannot, who knows how long Winston will be able to withstand punishment from opposing defenses week in and week out.

Let’s start with the two rookies: Donovan Smith on the blind side, and Ali Marpet at right guard. Both lineman were picked in the second round of this year’s draft, and both of them have a lot to prove if they want to spend the rest of their careers protecting Winston.

Smith, the 34th overall pick, has shown flashes of being a reliable left tackle, as the majority of Winston’s troubles have come from the interior of the offensive line (more on that in a second). However, like all rookies, he is still a work in progress. Only time will tell if the former Penn State product is up to the most important job on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line.

On the other hand, Marpet might have an even harder task. He’s transitioning from Division III football to the NFL, and he’s moving from left tackle to right guard. Talk about a lot to digest. Like Smith, Marpet has shown flashes of promise, but still has quite a lot of work to do. As the season rolls on, we will see if both rookies are up to the challenge of protecting Winston.

The other three positions are occupied by seasoned veterans who will look to help the two rookies learn how to thrive in the NFL, as well as keep Winston upright.

For the most part, it looks like Mankins has put an uneven first season in Tampa behind him. He’s grown into one of the team’s leaders, and the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. His winning ways in New England have begun to rub off on the rest of the offense. Although he had a few mistakes this preseason, he has mostly looked like his old self. That’s good news for the offense.

At center, Smith has to bounce back from a season in which he was arguably the NFL’s worst starting center. And so far, it hasn’t looked too promising. Most of the pressure Winston faced during the preseason came from right up the middle, where he couldn’t move in the pocket. If this continues, look for backup Jeremiah Warren to get the nod at the pivot.

And finally, we have Cherilus as right tackle. The former Colt and Lion signed with the team early in the preseason once Demar Dotson went down with a knee injury. Although he has looked a bit rusty at times, he should do a serviceable job protecting Winston’s strong side until Dotson returns. Then he can transition into a swing tackle role, backing up Smith and Dotson.

Next: Why the Bucs signing RT Gosder Cherilus needed to happen