Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith wasted little time making it official Friday afternoon: the starting quarterback position is rookie Jameis Winston’s to lose.
But even before announcing the day’s biggest news – a decision most fans assumed was coming, anyway – Smith made it a point to address one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses entering training camp.
Prior to opening up Friday afternoon’s press conference to questions, Smith let it be known that the Bucs’ unsettled situation on the offensive line will remain that way until pads come on and live action begins.
“When you evaluate linemen, it’s pretty hard to evaluate them when you don’t get a chance to practice in pads,” Smith said during his opening statement. “In about three days or so we’ll be in pads and be able to get some better evaluation on some of our players.
“I felt like we had a good start to our offseason program, kind of setting the direction we wanted to go. But now it’s about finishing it.”
Smith was noncommittal on specific position battles outside of placing Winston atop the quarterback depth chart, but his unsolicited mention of a unit that struggled to open running lanes and protect passers last year highlights how critical improved play in that area will be in 2015.
Heading into tomorrow’s first practice, two of five starting positions along the line appear to be there to earn. Barring injury, center Evan Smith, left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Demar Dotson are expected to be back as starters. That leaves left tackle and right guard up in the air.
Second-round draft picks Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet will be given opportunities to win jobs at left tackle and right guard, respectively, but will have plenty of competition from a group that includes Kevin Pamphile, Garrett Gilkey, Patrick Omameh, Kadeem Edwards.
“I haven’t talked to all of our football team about the depth chart and where our starting rotation will begin, but we just started on meetings this morning,” Smith said. “This afternoon we’ll start getting into football a little bit more, but we’re going to be a good football team. We realize there are areas we need to improve but now it’s time for all that talk to cease and we get to work on the practice field.”