After five years of protecting the Bucs’ former first overall pick Jameis Winston, left tackle Donovan Smith will now be tasked with keeping one of the game’s greatest passers upright heading into the 2020 season.
Smith spoke the media via a virtual press conference on Wednesday, where he talked about his workouts and preparation in the midst of a global pandemic, as well as what it will be like to block for Tom Brady while potentially seeing Winston on the opposing sideline twice per year.
“I was super excited to hear it when we signed Brady and everything,” Smith said. “Basically me and my guys are going to have the opportunity to block for the greatest quarterback of all time, in NFL history. So I was super excited about it and I was ready to go. It gave us something to look forward to with all of these things going on, in terms of the pandemic and everything, it just gave us a boost to look forward to come season time.”
When asked if there’s any added pressure that comes along with blocking for Brady, Smith insisted that he’s got a job to do regardless of who’s under center but added that Brady’s tendency to get the ball out quickly and elevate the play of those around him will help the Bucs’ offensive line as a unit.
“Any time a quarterback gets the ball out quickly it helps the offensive linemen,” Smith said. “That’s hands down, but it doesn’t change my job. Obviously you’re there to do a job and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, regardless of who they put back there, but obviously with the GOAT being back there the level of play is heightened and he brings out the best in everybody. So I look forward to it as an O-Line.”
The arrival of a new signal-caller spelled the end of the Winston era for Tampa Bay, as the quarterback recently signed a one-year deal with the division rival New Orleans Saints. While the first two selections in the Bucs’ 2015 draft class may no longer share a sideline, Smith wished Winston the best and said he’ll look forward to potentially seeing his former teammate twice a season.
“In terms of Jameis, I’m happy for him. That’s great for him,” Smith said. “We went to battle for the past five years together so I have nothing but love and respect for him and it’s just great for him to have another opportunity to go and study under a great quarterback. It’s going to be good for him, and yeah, it’s going to be fun to be able to see him twice a year.”
But while the Bucs’ offseason was a whirlwind throughout free agency and the draft process, it came to a screeching halt alongside a national shutdown. Not only has the shutdown impacted sports fans around the country, but it poses a specific problem for players who may not have readily accessible facilities or equipment to remain in playing shape, especially offensive linemen who require specific training and chemistry as a unit.
Part of the process has been alleviated by optional workouts provided by the Bucs’ strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli.
“You have to become a skill athlete,” Smith said. “You run, you do a lot of ladders and that’s where our conditioning comes from anyway. We do a lot of ladder work and then we just have to get out there and do football-specific movements.”
Smith continued, elaborating on how long he thought it would take to get the offensive line game-ready once they’re provided the opportunity to return to practice.
“I think a solid month, month-and-a-half maybe. Two months depending on what we’re doing. But a lot of these guys know how to maintain and stay in shape with what we’re doing. I guess the hardest part would just be finding the facilities or the space to run and do things, but it’s our job and we have to make the best of it.”
While we don’t yet have a specific timeline for when football will be gearing back up, Smith says that he looks forward to playing in front of a packed Raymond James Stadium that the addition of Brady and Rob Gronkowski will surely bring, along with the opportunity to get back to work when that time comes.
“I’m ready to go whenever they tell us what days we need to be there,” Smith said. “I’m going to be ready regardless of whether we’ve got people in the stands or not, but like I said, you want your fans there to be able to see and support you. You feed off of that.”