When the Bucs drafted Notre Dame OT Robert Hainsey in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, it was clear very little would be expected in year one. Hainsey has the experience, starting three straight seasons at right tackle for Notre Dame, but his rookie season will be spent in one of the best offensive line rooms in the NFL. Still, Hainsey has picked things up extraordinarily well despite learning a new position.
After only playing right tackle with the Fighting Irish, Hainsey has been trained exclusively at center during rookie mini-camp and OTAs. The position switch isn’t about the Bucs souring on him as a tackle, but simply to allow him to focus on the intricacies of playing center.
“We’re going to train him so that he is ready to go [at center] just in case,” Arians said. “His position flexibility is amazing. He’s going to play five spots. Center is a totally different bird. You learn the whole offense when you learn center – snapping the ball, especially when you’ve got Vita [Vea] and guys like that on you. That’s a little different challenge, so we’ll train him there. We know he can play tackle, we know he can play guard.”
Hainsey’s versatility wasn’t on display throughout college, and it wasn’t until the Senior Bowl where he generated buzz as an interior offensive lineman. Hainsey played center and guard in Mobile back in January, impressing at both spots. After struggling at times in college as a short-armed (32 1/8 inches) tackle, Hainsey may have a long-term home at center. His lack of length won’t be a critical issue there, and his football IQ could really shine as a pivot.
“Smart kid, he’s all about football,” assistant head coach Harold Goodwin said. “He’s aggravating me or aggravating A.Q. Shipley after every play. He comes from a well-rounded program that taught him very well, so he comes in with a lot of knowledge of the things we’re trying to teach. He’s had some experience in some of the thing we’re trying to teach from a schematic standpoint as well. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. I like him. I like where he’s heading and hopefully he can be the player I think he can be.”
As one of the few snappers at OTAs, Hainsey has received a ton of reps over the past few weeks. The 22 year-old has performed well in practices open to the media, displaying a clear vocal presence in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. But consistently accurate snaps will only come with repetition, which is something Hainsey will be trying to establish all year.
“He’s a five-position player – he can play right and left,” Arians said after the first week of OTAs. “But he’s got to quit snapping that thing to the quarterback’s fingertips though – too many balls were on the ground today. But yeah, he’s a great position flexibility guy.
The real test for Hainsey will come in training camp and preseason, when pads go on and we get to see him as a blocker. Right now it’s all about technical and mental reps in practice at a position he never played in college. The arrival of Bucs center Ryan Jensen should provide more tutelage next week, especially if Hainsey continues to work at center. The Bucs could also try Hainsey at guard, where Alex Cappa will be a free agent this offseason.
Hainsey may need an injury or two to see the field in 2021, but he’s in the Bucs future plans. With Jensen and Cappa set to test the market in the spring, Tampa Bay needs to develop interior OL options. Hainsey already has the play demeanor, toughness, and smarts of a Bucs offensive lineman, and this season will be about mastering the technique and details of new positions. A few weeks in, Hainsey seems up for the challenge.
“I don’t think there is a position he can’t play,” Arians said. “Whatever happens – barring injuries – he should be fine at a bunch of spots.”
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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