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Enough can’t be said about the Buccaneers’ 2015 rookie class.

From Jameis Winston’s development over the last month to Kwon Alexander putting complete games together at a new position, Tampa Bay has had key first-year contributors – and play-callers – on both sides of the ball. And it hardly ends with the quarterback and middle linebacker.

While they’ve been lost a bit in the limelight of the aforementioned players, perhaps no two guys, rookies or veterans, have exceeded expectations like Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet this season.

Bucs RG Ali Marpet - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs RG Ali Marpet – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Many questioned Tampa Bay’s strategy to plug two rookies in along the offensive line from day one. But after eight weeks, the Bucs second-round picks have silenced critics by grading out high in nearly every game while showing steady improvement at right guard and left tackle.

“Starting on the left side, Donovan, a rookie, is improving every week,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Wednesday. “He probably played his best game [in Atlanta].

“Ali, a right guard and a rookie, outstanding run blocker and improving in pass blocking. He’s tough; we can get movement running behind Ali. [He’s] just playing well right now.”

Aside from typical protection schemes along the offensive line, both in the running and passing game, Koetter’s offense has often required more from Smith and Marpet as individuals. Whether it’s serving as the primary blocker on a play designed to their side or getting to the second level on screens and taking on extra defenders, the rookie duo has stepped up and shown that the stage isn’t too big for them, despite having just seven games of experience.

“We’ve been showing up downfield, getting guys down to the ball and Donovan showed up,” Koetter said. “The way he pushed the pile a couple times. That one screen, he was down there cleaning up the pile and that was great to see.”

Much of their early success is credited to the veteran leaders lined up next to them. While a lot has been made about Logan Mankins and the job he’s done mentoring Donovan Smith on the left, Koetter specifically talked about the importance of having a presence like Gosder Cherilus to help Ali Marpet on the other side.

That’s not to forget Joe Hawley, either, who spoke later in the day about the growth of the two overachieving rookies.

“Ali came from a Division III school and, unless someone told me that, I wouldn’t have even known,” Hawley said. “He’s really improved each week and comes into work every day to focus on his craft. Those are two really good rookies who are only going to continue to improve.”

As a whole, the offensive line has been arguably the best unit for the Buccaneers this season. Despite two veterans who joined the team late – Cherilus and Hawley – and two rookies in Marpet and Smith, the group has come together and hit its stride in the second half of the season.

“We’ve had five guys playing together now for a few weeks,” Koetter said. “There’s something to that, more to it than you think. As a unit, those guys are playing really well and George [Warhop] is doing a great job coaching them.”

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About the Author: Zach Shapiro

Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders. Contact him at: zshapiro12@gmail.com
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pinkstob
pinkstob
6 years ago

The O-line is playing very well. I never watched either of these rookies play in college so I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad so far they’re living up to the potential they showed at the combine.

Iabucfan
Iabucfan
6 years ago

A weakness from last year’s team has become a strength to this year’s team. I like it. Go Bucs!

Horse
Horse
Reply to  Iabucfan
6 years ago

Agree!

drdneast
drdneast
6 years ago

Every now and then I read about Smith’s play being inconsistent but haven’t noticed it myself.
Seems to me that week after week he lines up and you don’t hear much about his guy sacking or bothering Winston.
Pretty much says it all for me.

chefboho
chefboho
Reply to  drdneast
6 years ago

Well said drdneast. The best thing u can hear about an offensive lineman is when u hear nothing lol. I’m very impressed with our line and love that we threw them both into the fire from opening day. Go bucs and keep improving. Our defense needs u

leeroybuc93
leeroybuc93
Reply to  drdneast
6 years ago

I remember Kenyatta Walker as a rookie and you couldn’t help but notice him. It was evident even to a casual fan that he was bad. Not getting that at all from Smith.

e
e
6 years ago

You could just feel the Patriots honing in on Marpet with their second round pick, but Licht snatched him up just in time.

scubog
scubog
Reply to  e
6 years ago

He certainly has some of “The Patriot Way” characteristics……..one in particular.

seat26
seat26
6 years ago

Finally the Bucs get some luck at Drafting. Not only did they get a Great QB, but both OL are looking like keepers and ALexander ? He is quickly becoming one of the best players on the Team. 10 yrs from now we are going to look back and say: This was when the Team turned the Corner. Obviously our Scouting has improved. Lets keep it up and may the next two drafts be just as productive. We need talent on Defense.

GoldsonAges
GoldsonAges
6 years ago

To see where the OL is right now compared to where they were in game one is amazing. This is a pretty good unit and Dotson coming back will be huge. Cherilus has done an admirable job but he is the weak link on the OL. Great job drafting by Licht and great coaching by Koetter. L&K.

jme0151
jme0151
6 years ago

It’s like they say…when you don’t hear a lot about the Big Ugly guys they must be doing their job!!!!

EastEndBoy
EastEndBoy
6 years ago

Definitely the biggest positive surprise of the year…I was very worried that JW would be running for his life, but instead he has clean pockets 99% of the time. IMO, Marpet is performing the better of the two. Smith looks to have a future but I still think he may be better suited to OG than OT (Mankins’s replacement). Overall, our Oline is playing at a solid B level (although I know they never get more than a C+ from PR :-))…really good.

jongruden
jongruden
6 years ago

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned why the O-line has played better and that’s because EDS has been out and Hawley has been better and solidified the center position. I like D Smith out of Penn St from the “youtube” highlights, lol but yes I did, and Marpet I was against drafting esp since Locket was still on board and we could have drafted AJ Cann instead but I think Marpet has shown he can play in this league and has a future

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
Reply to  jongruden
6 years ago

I think that was the most important thing to happen to this line. I have never liked EDS as his snaps take about two minutes to get to jameis, that is if he doesn’t roll it back there, and he’s just not nearly as athletic as Hawley.

Entre
Entre
Reply to  jongruden
6 years ago

I agree that replacing EDS was a major improvement at center, but in my opinion the reason the entire line looks better is because of Koetter. His play calling vs Marcus Arroyo’s cannot be overstated. It is a major upgrade. Arroyo made an already bad line look worse. He never called screens. He always called long dropbacks, and he was very predictable. I like Hawley, but I really like Koetter.

georgehicks
georgehicks
6 years ago

Well it seems that these rookies will Improved all year. Can’t wait to see the young man exceed at OT & OG. I also see Jameis Winston could have his leadership show this year and I believe that this year team will exceed far better then some of the sports critics thouche. Can’t wait to see a new DL, CB, a big bruising rb to go along with Martin, and a safety from draft. They are on the right track. Teams come to play Tampa now will have to bring their A game.Go Bucs

Ronald
Ronald
6 years ago

It’s getting exciting isn’t it. Need to get a replacement for Mankins lined up. He can’t last forever,but he has been good for this young line.

inspecto
inspecto
6 years ago

It sure is great to watch things come together. We need to stay healthy and have some balls bounce our way.
Go Bucs!!

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