Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last but not least. Well, maybe the least. The Buccaneer offensive line has been much maligned over the last five years or so. The season before Jameis Winston was drafted we saw the Buccaneers deploy one of the very worst offensive line units to ever disgrace a football field, a memory so painful that it still makes me quiver. Thankfully for everyone general manager Jason Licht addressed the disastrous unit in the draft when he selected left tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet in the second round.
Three seasons later and both players look bound for new contracts in the near future. Donovan Smith had a rocky rookie season, a semi-rocky sophomore season, and an encouraging third season last year. The big left tackle is a mauler in the run game and provides a consistent opportunity to gain rushing yards behind. He struggles with quick-twitch speed rushers in the pass game, but can overall hold his own. Smith still commits too many penalties with eight last year and tends to get stuck holding when he’s beaten.
Ali Marpet began his career at guard and thrived almost right away, improving the Buccaneer guard play exponentially from where it was before (anyone remember Oniell Cousins?). Before last season the Bucs made the decision to move Marpet inside to center where they felt he would make more of an impact; it would also free up a guard spot for J.R. Sweezy who was returning from injury. Marpet once again performed admirably aside from some bad snaps, but overall the team realized he was better suited at guard.
Enter Ryan Jensen. The Bucs made Jensen the highest paid center in the league this off-season when they poached him from the Baltimore Ravens. Jensen was Pro Football Focus’s ninth ranked center in the league last season and instantly bolsters the Buccaneer run game. With Marpet back to guard and Jensen at center the Buccaneer should find a lot of improvement in all aspects of offensive line play, particularly in short yardage situations. Tampa’s other guard spot is a major question mark with either rookie Alex Cappa, or veterans Kevin Pamphile and J.R. Sweezy set to play, but the Buccaneers seem content to let that play out in camp.
The longest tenured Buccaneer, Demar Dotson, appears to be on the way back to action after suffering a serious knee injury last season. At 32 years old and riddled with past injuries it’s anyone’s guess what Dotson has left in the tank, but when he’s physically right the Bucs have a rock solid tackle on their hands.
Overall Tampa’s offensive line had an incomplete 2017 as it was ravaged by injury and had very little running back talent to block for. It’s hard to judge a unit that saw two of its best players in Dotson and Marpet miss the bookend of the season. The Bucs are surely looking forward to a fresh start in 2018.