The Bucs went all in when they selected offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet in this year’s NFL Draft and the gamble to start them immediately is paying off through the first nine weeks of the season.
“Donovan has exceeded expectations,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Wednesday. “I’ve said it before; we hit the jackpot on him and Ali. We just couldn’t be happier with those guys. We talk about Jameis [Winston] in here all the time, expecting him to play like a five-year veteran, well we expect Donovan to as well. Yeah, he had three false starts [Sunday], but the good things he’s doing far outweigh the negatives.”
Winston joined in the praise of the big guys protecting him and said Smith’s consistency has been impressive.
“He’s playing amazing,” Winston said. “One thing that Donovan does, he’s like me, he snaps and clears. If he makes a mistake he forgets about it and bounces back. He rarely makes mistakes, especially lately. He’s amazing, he’s strong, he’s my left-hand man.”
Smith is manning the offensive line’s premier position at left tackle and taking on some of the league’s top pass-rushing talents, including Dallas’ Greg Hardy last weekend, Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan and Houtson’s J.J. Watt. The rookie out of Penn State appreciates the positive reinforcement and said he isn’t surprised to hear about the vocal support.
“It’s always good, but that’s just the way our staff is,” Smith said. “They have our backs to the fullest no matter what and we have their backs to the fullest. That’s why us as a team, we’re comfortable going into battle with them and trusting the process and trusting them. It does mean a lot to hear those words but that’s just the type of coaching staff we have.”
Marpet started the first eight games with Smith at right guard before spraining his ankle against the New York Giants two weeks ago. He begins taking reps during practice this week and is looking forward to coming back after missing his first game of any type since his senior year of high school basketball, he said.
“Obviously I’d rather be playing but the result was awesome, so I can’t complain about that,” Marpet said about missing last week’s game. “I’m glad that they’re pleased with my progress, but again I think we still want to get a whole lot better and I think they see we can get a lot better.”
Through nine games, Winston’s dropped back to pass 301 times and only been sacked on 16 of those occasions, or 1.8 times a game.