There have been plenty of praise-worthy moves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made this offseason. But, even amidst the good change, the Bucs have been criticized for something they didn’t change. That would be their offensive line.

Last week, Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report took a look at every team’s “biggest offseason mistake“, a signing or lack thereof. For the Bucs, he chose their offensive line and how they “failed” to improve it after a down year.

The Buccaneers went out of their way to make young franchise quarterback Jameis Winston’s life easier by giving him new weapons in three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson, rookie tight end O.J. Howard and rookie wideout Chris Godwin this offseason, but they could have done more to address an offensive line that struggled in 2016.

PFF ranked that unit 19th in the league in terms of pass-blocking efficiency last season. Left tackle Donovan Smith often resembled a turnstile, and left guard Kevin Pamphile and center Joe Hawley weren’t much better in pass protection. Despite that, the Bucs didn’t sign or draft a single offensive lineman.

They could benefit from the return of veteran guard J.R. Sweezy, but he’s been dealing with a lingering back issue and hasn’t always been effective when healthy. Smith could put it together in his third season, but it won’t be easy to recover from a year in which PFF ranked him 69th among 76 qualified offensive tackles. Hawley has solid intangibles and is the kind of veteran you want in the dressing room, but he’s still a mediocre center, and the Bucs strangely gave him a new two-year contract worth $5.5 million. They might test Ali Marpet at center, but wouldn’t that just open up a hole at right guard?

You know what they need? More talented options at every offensive line position. Too late now.

I feel like we’ve read so many of these this offseason, but this one is even a little more strange.

First, yes, Donovan Smith has to get better. But, to his defense, having a revolving door at running back with different styes in the run game didn’t help in 2016. Plus when you factor in all the injuries the receiving group had, and how that resulted in more time needed to block for less experienced or athletic receivers to get open, that also puts offensive linemen in a bad spot (the game of football is a giant chain reaction).

The writer questions Joe Hawley at center, but knows full-well that Marpet is going to start at center, and then says Marpet moving to center would open up a hole a right guard, also knowing full-well that Sweezy is scheduled to come back to fill that role as planned.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In this week’s SR’s Fab5, Reynolds spoke with Smith and with Kevin Pamphile as well about how they’ve trimmed up to be more athletic in the passing blocking game. Smith especially seems to know that him being a big-bodied bully at Penn State doesn’t fly in the NFL because defensive ends are too fast. Going into his third year, he’s trimmed down to try to counter that.

And that last part is what people need to understand about this offensive line. This is Smith’s third year. This is the year he’s really suppose to blossom. People act like he was this Top 10 pick who was suppose to be great in his first two years. It takes time for rookies. If he is actually a starting-caliber left tackle, this year is the expected timetable to prove it. Pamphile is in a contract year, something they wanted to play out in its entirety before they either gave him the money to replace an aging Demar Dotson, or let him walk. The outlook since he was drafted has been to move Marpet to center all along, and that, too, is going according to plan. And finally, Sweezy stepping in is basically like an extra free agent, as long as his back holds up.

Why would the Buccaneers give up on these players before they have to when there’s plenty of potential still there? They have the young core of players already in place in other areas of the team, and they’ve set themselves up very healthy in terms of cap space. You can’t just say, “they should have improved their offensive line.” OK, who, and at what price?

Andrew Whitworth

Offensive Tackle Andrew Whitworth

35-year-old Andrew Whitworth for over $10 million a year? 29-year-old T.J. Lang to the same position you’re already paying Sweezy for? Same for Kevin Zeitler, who signed a 5-year, 60-million dollar deal? And did you see the contract the Panthers gave Matt Kalil? No thanks, I’ll sit this cycle out. The offensive line market was great for the players, but bad for the teams this year, and if the Bucs would have made a big move, money would’ve been very tight for them with Mike Evans and Jameis Winston’s contracts coming up.

If there was anywhere I’d say the Bucs might “regret” not improving more, the SAM linebacker or cornerback positions were more in the realm of realism, as the team is going to rely on two first-year starters at both positions in cornerback Ryan Smith and linebacker Devonte Bond or Kendell Beckwith. Even though they’re less critical roles, both could have been improved without breaking the bank like offensive line would.

I don’t want to be too hard on national writers who are asked to correctly judge every team in the NFL – it’s hard enough to always be right on just one. But, this part of Gagnon’s article seemed like he was just finding what he could to poke holes in a mostly-stellar offseason for Tampa Bay. Some things can be quicker fixes in the NFL (with the right moves and a little luck), but others take patience. This has been the three-year plan for the Buccaneers’ offensive line all along. If they struggle, you’ll see the changes come in bunches next offseason. If they thrive, it was all according to plan. Regardless of which of those two results it is, they’ve handled it the right way.

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About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: trevor@pewterreport.com
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Horse
4 years ago

Trevor, excellent points. Regardless of what my buddy Scubog says about my push to replace the Center and his back up during the 2016 season, it was obviously the weakest spot on the OL. Marpet is a perfect fit because he is a much more talented player than Hawley or E. Smith. Even Gottschalk was better than those two in 2016 season, but the right move was made by waiting after the 2016 season was over to move Marpet to Center and Sweezy back to his original RG position for the 2017 season. With those to move, I believe we… Read more »

Bucnut2
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Horse- I am not counting on Sweezy at all and will be suprised if he makes much of a contribution this year. I am no doctor, but everything I read indicates that back issues are very tricky and sometimes world class athletes are never the same once they have back issues. I LOVE moving ALI to center and am ok with some of the youngsters getting playing time.

scubog
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Does Gottschalk have a job anywhere Horse?

Horse
Reply to  scubog
4 years ago

Who Cares.

fredster
4 years ago

I’m not convinced O line will be much better but I think Bucs had good draft and you can’t fix everything one year. We are young,moving in right direction and gaining great talent and players. It takes a while to build a winner. It does no good to second guess really. I’m not sold on lot things especially Smith all sudden year 3 turning corner. I’m hoping I’m wrong love to see deep playoff run but I think we aren’t quite there.

Bucnut2
Reply to  fredster
4 years ago

I am with everything you said Horse. I don’t see the Bucs making the playoffs let alone a deep run. We have too many holes and JW, while talented, is not elite..yet.

Bucnut2
Reply to  fredster
4 years ago

Sorry- meant to say Fredster.

Bucnut2
4 years ago

Trevor- you did a great job of outlining why the Bucs did what they did. I am with you, given the thin FA market and draft for O-line, I think the Bucs did the right thing by betting on the players they have. Hopefully with better weapons and frankly better recognition by Winston, the ball will come out more quicklyexcept on max protect deep shots. Something that never gets mentioned about the o-line is the Winston does tend to hold on to the ball, not knocking him but he does. Well done Trevor!

Naplesfan
Reply to  Bucnut2
4 years ago

The writer isn’t necessarily wrong, Trevor. The Bucs o line didn’t perform well last season, and the Bucs didn’t add any significant new talent to the OL in FA or the draft. So OL is obvious as a perceived weakness this season. OTOH, the Bucs did not necessarily scew up by not injecting new talent on the OL. They know their players much better than any media writer, national or local, or us fans. That’s why they play the games. Time will tell us if the Bucs screwed up on the OL, ir were brilliantly managing the roster, or something… Read more »

Mic
Mic
4 years ago

We just need more talent, we should aim for longterm starters all along the line not serviceable/inconsistent Koetter made the same mistake in Atlanta. Watching Prescott play qb behind that line is on easy mode with the amount of time he has. Majority of his throws are the comeback,slants and crossers/checkdown on PA rollout he mainly has 1read and if he needs to read more he has no pressure to make mental errors. If he’s not behind Dallas’line he’s not a ROY candidate Patrick Elflein who I think will be a pro bowler in the league can play center/guard draft… Read more »

matador
4 years ago

I’m glad PR is content with Smith waiting until his third season to make the kind of commitment necessary to play well enough to protect his franchise QB’s blind side and keep his job. Would have been nice if he bothered to prepare like a professional last season, instead of disrespecting his teammates. That said I’m encouraged reading about his improved fitness and optimistic it translates to better play on the field. Trevor I usually agree with everything you write, yours is the most insightful work on this site by a mile. But no one was posting that we should… Read more »

Horse
Reply to  matador
4 years ago

Matador, based on Licht and Koetter previous comments, they are playing the best five guys they have on the OL and that’s why Marpet was moved to Center and Sweezy moved back to his usual RG position. It’s not a great OL, but we do have the tools at other positions that compensate for it. Just my opinion.

fredster
4 years ago

Agree that’s what I said basically they aren’t there yet.

fredster
4 years ago

Matador I agree and I thought exact same thing when I read he’s losing weight. I mean Winston did it too but Winston didn’t play horribly below average and made the change. To me if Smith isn’t lazy and loves football would made changes before third year…

Runole
4 years ago

The Bleacher report is dead to me and they should be to everyone else with the way they treated Jameis Winston and anyone that supported him. Horrible website that shuts out anyone that doesn’t toe the line with them.

Bucnut2
4 years ago

Guys- please remember that Donovan and most of the guys are 22 year olds. JW is mature beyond his years. not everyone will mature like he has.

EastEndBoy
Reply to  Bucnut2
4 years ago

Donovan Smith will be 24 years old in about a week. The average age of 53 man rosters last year (and it’s pretty similar every year) was between 25 and 27. The average age of our OLine will be 27 this year. Basically, our guys are no younger (or older) than any other team’s. Donovan Smith has two full years under his belt and he was fairly awful last year, again. He might be able to pull it all together this year (we all hope), but it would seem he’s on his last chance – age being no factor any… Read more »

plopes808
4 years ago

As I said on another article, people seem to be missing the big picture. Although we didn’t add any new FA or Draft picks, we gained one in Sweezy that we hadn’t had the luxury of using last year. Ali is an upgrade over Hawley and C. Smith has cut down his weight and body fat, which should make him faster…one of his biggest weaknesses was speed so that should improve our LT play. Pamphile has shown improvement over the past few seasons at LG. The only untouched position is RT but with Dotson’s age, I think we address that… Read more »

plopes808
Reply to  plopes808
4 years ago

Let’s also not forget the importance of having a plethora of receiving options. Jameis won’t need to hold the ball nearly as long so the OL won’t have to hold their blocks for extended periods. The addition of Howard will also help as another blocker on the line who doubles as a receiving threat. Jameis must be losing his mind right now thinking of all the different options out there for him in 2017

scubog
Reply to  plopes808
4 years ago

Finally someone gets it.

drdneast
4 years ago

I’m either terribly blind or prejudiced about Donovan Smith because I haven’t seen him as a liability this last two years. A revolving door he was not. Everyone on the Bucs staff knew he was a better run blocker than pass blocker and it would take a couple of years to develop his technique If anyone was a liability last year, it was Kevin Pamphile, who kept missing stunts the whole season. But it was also Pamphiles first year at guard and it may be his last since he might be moved to right tackle next year if he proves… Read more »

scubog
Reply to  drdneast
4 years ago

Totally agree with you Dr.D. Sometimes I wonder if some of these folks ever actually go to the game. They read someone’s opinion and right away think it’s fact. Here’s what I saw live and in person regarding our O-line. Center Joe Hawley was getting killed and Panphile was still settling in at guard and as you said, had some difficulty with stunts. Meanwhile, the running game was virtually no threat so teams focused on stopping Mike Evans. This caused Jameis to not have an open receiver quickly enough so he would hold the ball a bit longer waiting to… Read more »

fredster
4 years ago

Pamphile also hasn’t started 3 years in a row like Smih has. He also was what 5th RD pick not 2nd RD like Smith. Not sure why you keep defending Smith Dr. d. He was horrible in pass protection and penalties were horrible too. He needs to improve a lot this year or they will move on I bet. I do agree with about Sweezey being one of biggest question marks. Everyone acts like Sweezey will fix everything. Even if his back is 100% and the injury isn’t reagravated, he was not consistent pass blocker and has a full year… Read more »

makski
4 years ago

I know I am slightly off topic on this one since everybody is talking about the O-line, but enough people have commented on that. My question is about the CB position. I’m confused Trevor, at the end of the article, you suggested that the biggest “miss” by the Bucs might have been at SAM LB or CB. While I completely agree with you on the 2 positions that require more depth, I was confused when you said we would be relying on 2 FIRST year starters?? Is Ryan Smith actually going to be starting at CB?? I thought that Grimes… Read more »

BigSombrero
4 years ago

Offensive line seems to be what most fans and national writers think will be the reason Tampa finishes last in the NFC South or why they won’t make the playoffs, but I ask you this: Can you name two starting offensive linemen from each SuperBowl team from last year? NO GOOGLING! The reality is the offensive line in Dallas is rare and doesn’t guarantee you anything. They got smashed by Atlanta in the playoffs. Atlanta and New England have had a revolving door on the O-line and have still been very good. Scheme, play calling and most importantly execution by… Read more »

kram0789
4 years ago

The weakest spot on the OL is right tackle Demar Dotson. He has been oft injured the last two years and it has shown up in his play even when he is healthy. He is regressing and will probably be injured again this year. Chain reaction. We move Pamphile to RT and who to LG? That will put stress on Smith and Marpet to make up for the new guy. Can Pamphile even play RT? He has only been below average at LG. The Bucs could have drafted an OL instead of Godwin. And yes, I know that would not… Read more »

Naplesfan
4 years ago

Trevor, the writer is not obviously wrong in saying the Bucs screwed up by not adding any significant talent to an OL that underperformed last season And the Bucs are not obviously wrong for standing pat on the OL this season. They know their own players far better than any national or local media writer, or us fans. That’s why they play the games. The proof will eventually show that the Bucs either screwed up on the OL, or the Bucs were brilliant in managing their roster this year … or something in between . I hope that it turns… Read more »

kram0789
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

Me too.

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
4 years ago

I’m cautiously optimistic about the OL this season. On paper they should be better unit than last season. They didn’t make any big moves but they did upgrade from within. There are a lot of “IF” factors though. -IF Marpet can succeed at C -IF Sweezy can come back and be productive at RG & be better in pass pro -IF Smith can put it all together at LT and be less of a liability -IF Dot can stay healthy and not regress Every position group has question marks to start a season, but I feel the OL has the… Read more »

AlexanderNascimento
4 years ago

Great piece, Trevor!
Congrats!

I really like your ideas and way of putting them out.

Keep up!

AlexanderNascimento
Reply to  AlexanderNascimento
4 years ago

Keep *it* up!

WiltheBrewer
4 years ago

Well, the OL did have a drop-off from the year before when the Bucs had the #2 rusher in the NFL and one of the best 1-2 running combos in the league, + having Winston pass for 4,000+ yds… The coaches know the talent with which they are working, and I’m sure if they had serious concerns about the talent they would’ve drafted accordingly- like not trading up for Beckwith, for example. I DO think that there is a lot w/ the OL that can go either way this season, so we shall see. I have faith that the new… Read more »

drdneast
4 years ago

fredster, Donovan Smith has played two professional seasons, not three. And if you look at the players with the most penalties on each team it is usually one or the other OT. Big surprise. Better to hold than seeing the QB planted in the soil like a potato. Good post RootsCrew. I remember in 2015 when there was also a lot of questions being raised about the OL because they had two rookies starting yet they seemed to have done pretty well and set a team record for offense I believe. Scubog, I’m with you. A lot of these armchair… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
4 years ago

Good o-lines make ordinary back look better than they are. The truth is Rodgers and Barber are ordinary backs and didn’t have much help from the Bucs o-line last year. Pamphille was the only one that graded out as a road grader. Bucs o-line in pass pro is suspect at both tackle spots. But D. Smith did outplay D. Dotson last year and it showed. My gut feeling is this: Marpet is going to be a stud at OC. Sweazy will be serviceable at RG. Pamphille will improve his pass pro at LG and continue to be a road grader… Read more »