The biggest changes on the Bucs roster took place across the offensive line this offseason with the release of Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Gabe Carimi, in addition to the trade of Jeremy Zuttah. Former Packer Evan Dietrich-Smith was signed in March and is already establishing himself as a leader.
Out of all the changes made after Lovie Smith became the Buccaneers head coach back in January – and there have been many – the revamping of the offensive line stands out as the most radical and perhaps the most necessary.
As of now, three of the five starters across the line will be new faces, and by the time training camp arrives in late July there could be even more changes. Gone are long-time pewter and red fixtures tackle Donald Penn and Davin Joseph (release), starting center Jeremy Zuttah (trade) and part-time starter Gabe Carimi who was also let go.
One of the new faces that will line up as a starter on opening day in September – barring injury – is former Packers center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith. The bearded and tattooed lumberjack look-a-like who snapped the ball to Aaron Rodgers for 16 games in 2013 will now be the one giving it to Josh McCown in Tampa Bay.
Dietrich-Smith is getting settled in the Buccaneers locker room but said he knows a couple faces already.
“I knew Jamon [Meredith] , because me and him came in as rookies up in Green Bay," Dietrich-Smith said. "I never actually played with Carl [Nicks], but (Carl and I) actually grew up playing sports together; from the same town (in Salinas, CA). And some of the guys I’m just meeting down here. But everyone has mostly easy to get a long with. It’s the offensive line group, you know it’s not too hard for us to mesh.”
Dietrich-Smith, who started 16 games under center for Green Bay in 2013, was asked if offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers might have had some bearing on Tampa Bay recruiting the former Idaho State product.
“I don’t know about that, because I think Aaron kind of wanted me back there, but since I’ve been able to meet Jeff and talk to him, you can see why he’s real easy to get along with,” Dietrich-Smith said. “He’s a real level-headed guy, he knows what he’s doing, he’s just easy to talk to.
Dietrich-Smith said it isn’t just Tedford he is fond of.
“I’m really enjoying the staff up here, everybody’s real approachable,” Dietrich-Smith said. “You can go into anybody’s office and sit down and have a conversation with them. You feel like you really get to know them and its not just about football, you can talk about life, which is really good. If you can add that kind of level of respect on the team its going to build us all closer as a staff, group, and football team."
Of all the units on a football team, the offensive line arguably has to play as one cohesive unit more than any other for a team to have success. With so many new faces Dietrich-Smith knows that will be the challenge.
“It can be difficult at times, but when you have a good coach, usually he gets guys going in the right direction,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I think (offensive line) coach [George] Warhop is an excellent line coach, he’s been in the league for multiple years, he knows his stuff. It’s going in the right direction, the rest of it falls on us making sure that we are studying and on top of our plays.”
With the release of Joseph and Penn, the Buccaneers have lost some significant leadership across the line. One of the few holdovers from last season, starting right tackle Demar Dotson, said despite the departure of his two friends, Dietrich-Smith has already begun to fill the role as vocal leader.
"I am more of a person who leads by example and goes out working hard and being the best football player I can be," Dotson said. I am not a big yeller, I am not a big screamer. That's not me. Dietrich-Smith does enough yelling for everybody. I asked him, 'Can (you) calm it down a little bit?' Nobody needs me trying to yell. That guy does enough!"
Some in the media have pegged Dietrich-Smith as primarily a pass blocking center, but according to the six-year veteran, that isn’t the case.
“I do it all man, that’s what I take most pride in, whatever they ask me to do out there I’m going to do it,” Dietrich-Smith said. “That’s how you want to be out there as a center. You don’t want to be known as (just) a pass blocking guy, because that’s not how I feel. I feel like I could be dominant in all phases and that’s what you want to be.
“If you feel like you can go out there and be a player all around, that’s what you should strive to be. But I strive to be the best because if I didn’t do that, I probably wouldn’t be where I am.”
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