Bucs O-linemen Demar Dotson and Ali Marpet - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. BUCS SHOW FAITH IN TAMPA BAY’S O-LINE
With Tampa Bay’s ground game stagnating in 2016 after a top 5 ranking a year earlier, Buccaneers fans have been clamoring for change along its offensive line since January.
Sign a high-priced, big name in free agency.
Draft an offensive tackle in the first two rounds.
As expected, the Bucs did neither.
Since the end of the Bucs’ 2016 campaign PewterReport.com has been reporting (over and over) that the team liked what it had and that the only free agent Tampa Bay might sign would be re-signing center Joe Hawley, which happened.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Despite these reports, Bucs fans were still in disbelief. The team needed to at least draft a tackle to challenge and eventually replace either Demar Dotson or Donovan Smith, right?
The national media was a willing accomplice, fueling that fantasy by linking Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson to the Buccaneers in a few mock drafts. When it was all said and done, Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter did what I expected them to do.
They completely ignored the offensive line in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“We are confident with what we have here and once again, it was just two years ago that we were a fifth-leading rushing team and gave up whatever it was, not very many sacks,” Licht said after the second day of the draft. “It’s really just, [former Buccaneers guard] Logan Mankins is a great player, but we have the same group. In fact, we added, hopefully [guard] J.R. [Sweezy] stays on track where he is right now.
“We’re very excited about this group. Not to say that there wasn’t a point when we thought about bringing in some depth or we might here tomorrow, but we are happy. Part of the exercise you do on the draft board is you try to rank your guys into the draft of where they would fall. You have to take that into account too.”
Licht had spent five draft picks on the offensive line in his first three drafts in Tampa Bay. He selected Tennessee State guard Kadeem Edwards and Purdue left tackle Kevin Pamphile in the sixth round. In 2015 Licht drafted two linemen in the second round – Smith, a left tackle from Penn State, and Hobart College’s left tackle, Ali Marpet, who would be moved to right guard. Last year, Tampa Bay grabbed UCLA right tackle Caleb Benenoch in the fifth round, and he’s expected to play guard with an outside chance at right tackle as he grows and gains experience.
Of those five picks, Edwards is no longer on the team and three – Smith, Marpet and Pamphile – are starters. Smith and Marpet are entering their third year in the starting lineup, and Pamphile, who is entering a contract year, is entering his second season as a starter at left guard. The team likes Benenoch’s upside.
At some point, the Bucs had to stop drafting offensive linemen and give the guys they’ve drafted a chance to develop. That line of thinking coincided perfectly with an incredibly poor crop of offensive linemen in this year’s draft.
While there’s depth, I’m not sure I’ve seen a poorer collection of offensive linemen in one draft..
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 21, 2017
While there’s depth, I’m not sure I’ve seen a poorer collection of offensive linemen in one draft..
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 21, 2017
Offensive linemen need time to develop, and players like Smith, Marpet, Pamphile – and certainly Benenoch – are far from finished products. The only way for them to gain the needed experience to improve is to see time on the field.
In the eyes of the Bucs’ brass, the team did make some additions this offseason to its offensive line. It regained Sweezy, last year’s prized free agent addition on offense, after a back injury in offseason workouts cost him all of 2016. His insertion at right guard should help Tampa Bay’s run game.
And Marpet’s move from guard to center adds more size and physicality in the middle of the offensive line. Hawley, the team’s starter the last two years, was re-signed for depth, competition and an insurance policy at center in case Sweezy or Pamphile gets injured and Marpet has to move back to guard.
That’s two big changes as the Bucs see it, although that’s not the changes fans were necessarily hoping for.
Bucs LG Ali Marpet blocks Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Well you know, I think versatility is a big thing,” said Jameis Winston, the quarterback Marpet will be snapping to. “When you have different linemen that can play guard, tackle and center, I think that’s huge. But Ali, I trust him. You think about the road that this guy’s [taken] – a Division III athlete to starting guard in the NFL – there’s no obstacle too big for Ali. So I’m excited for him and I know he’s excited, so I’m looking forward to it.”
I recently spoke with Pamphile and Dotson about the Bucs’ show of confidence in the existing linemen on the team by brining everyone back from a year ago and they appreciate the faith Licht, Koetter and offensive line coach George Warhop have demonstrated.
“One thing that fans need to know is that it takes some time to gain the trust of the guy next to you,” Pamphile said. “You have to play as one – five guys playing as one unit. It takes time to build that trust. Bringing in a free agent helps sometime, but if that guy is off the page then it screws up the entire chemistry of the bunch. For us to have even more time together is exciting.
“When Joe got re-signed we were all talking about keeping the gang together. We were excited because we all knew what we could do together. We trust each other, and Warhop and Dirk trust us. We’re a competitive group and we want to get as many wins as possible. We want to show the fans that. This is still a young offensive line in general. The only old guy is Demar. We’re still young and we’re still growing.”
Earlier in the offseason, Koetter said that the goal was to get Tampa Bay’s best, most talented offensive linemen on the field together. That’s something that the ever-competitive offensive linemen have embraced.
“It’s created a little uncertainty about the offensive line and what it’s going to look like, but it’s a good uncertainty,” Pamphile said. “You have so many guys that can play so many different positions. I can play all the positions. J.R. can play left or right guard. Ali can play guard, but he’s moving to center. It’s crazy how many combinations we can have. It helps the team and gives us more depth.
“We’re getting J.R. back and he’s going to be a huge asset for us. I’ve watched film to see what he can do on the field, and I saw it and said, ‘Oh man, this is going to be huge for our run game.’ For me, if they have me on the left side or the right side, it doesn’t matter. I just want to help the team win. That’s all I care about.”
Dotson said that despite fans being vocal in their desire to see new offensive linemen come to Tampa Bay this offseason he wasn’t shocked that the Bucs didn’t draft a lineman.
Bucs RT Demar Dotson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“They want to create continuity and have the same guys playing together for a long time,” Dotson said. “I think we have a good core nucleus in Ali Marpet, Donovan Smith and Kevin Pamphile. Those three young guys and J.R. Sweezy coming into the mix, it’s going to be good for us. If you bring in another veteran and try to mix it up it might take even more time for everyone to gel. You never know what you’re going to get bringing in free agents. A lot of offensive linemen that we’ve brought in over the years – look how it’s worked out? When you bring in a guy he might have worked in one system, but he comes here and he might not pan out. At least right now you know what you’ve got. It didn’t surprise me that Dirk didn’t bring anybody else in.”
Dotson said that while the plan is to move Marpet to center, he expects Hawley Smith to not relinquish that role without a fight.
“That’s going to be quite the competition at center,” Dotson said. “There are two capable guys in Joe and Evan that can without a doubt play center. Then you gave a guy that everybody loves in Ali that is a smart guy and a tough kid. I think he can pick up center pretty quickly. He’s smart, tough and coachable. I don’t know it’s going to fare with Joe with Ali getting those reps, but we have team guys.
“Like Dirk said, he’s going to put the five best guys on the field. He wants to win and the team wants to win. I don’t think it will create any bad blood within the line. If Ali is good enough to play center then he’ll play it. He’s a draft pick and they love him. That keeps Kevin at left guard and it moves J.R. into right guard that he’s used to playing at Seattle and Ali at center. That’s the most ideal thing for the team. We’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a fun training camp for sure.”
Actually, the most ideal thing for the Bucs offensive line is to establish the starting five as early as possible the preseason so the final five will have a few weeks to gel together prior to the start of the regular season in Miami on September 10. Marpet better be quick at mastering the center spot, and Sweezy better be on top of his game with any rust shaken off during training camp.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Awesome Fab5! You nailed it, Scott, regarding the OL. Mr. Licht and his staff are good a identifying a position group that is strong/weak in the draft. Last couple of drafts were good for o-linemen. The Bucs capitalize on that. This year, the ol group was not as strong, which you pointed out, so they went in a different direction. I think that sometimes we as fans judge players and groups of players in a stagnant matter, which is a mistake. In other words, this is all you are going to get from a player or group of players. People grow and change as do group of players. As this OL works together, they will get better.
I think also with the addition of Desean Jackson and Chris Godwin, this will stretch the field which will help the OL. Plus, with the drafting of O.J. Howard will help also. I believe the future is bright with this OL!
Why do you have to brag Scott in your opening statement? Is it necessary? We fans can figure it out on our own where the team stands at this point and time. This seems to be the new thing in the world; bragging. I don’t care for it at all.
I do like the TE position we are in right now. I still have some concerns with our DL and OL because we have had many injuries at these two positions. It’s great we have back ups, but how comfortable are you when they have to start? I’m sure not comfortable at all. I don’t see the back ups pushing the starters for their jobs; just don’t see it.
I know we are going to be competitive, but so are all the other teams we are going to play. No back QB and no promising back up to actually replace a DL or OL as a starter; instead we have some back ups that were starters and are now back ups; that alone tells me we’re not there yet, but getting closer. Go Bucs!
I don’t see it as bragging, but more as marketing the strengths of the site. When you watch a truck commercial, they talk about all the awards they have won, which seperates them from the rest of the competition. Scott pointing out how often they are right about all things Bucs is just a way of them trying to prove why they are the best Bucs news outlet.
I don’t care for it either horse. Don’t care what you call it either, bragging, boasting, marketing… There’s other, more tasteful ways of saying, “you heard it here first”. I wasn’t even one of those fans/ subscribers you mentioned clamoring for offensive line help. I imagine I’d be even more offended if that were the case.
So Brate ISN’T upset with drafting Howard. I see what you did there…
Nice fab 5 Scott. I didn’t think you were bragging, horse must be cranky this morning.
I think the BUCS had a nice draft and added good pieces. Time will tell.
I’ve said it before, I believe the BUCS have a great core, but it is going to take a couple more years of good drafting for this team to be solid top to bottom. Grimes & Ayers are bridges, and hopefully they’ll hold up a couple more years. (We might be able to add Dotson to this list)
Question, I still think the BUCS are 1 WR short from a good core. Do you see the team adding another veteran before camp to add quality depth? (i.e.-like a Shorts)
The live draft streaming was fun, especially during the first round. I don’t know if it was a good thing or bad thing that you and man bun knew each team’s picks 2 picks ahead of ESPN. I hope PR continues it in the future.
In Licht we Trust, GO BUCS
Had we signed free agent Joe Thomas, we could have ended anyone’s questions about the OL.
Great read Scott and as usual thought provoking. I feel comfortable with this years OL strategy. I always felt that Marpet would eventually move to center and I am glad that they brought Hawley back as a versatile back-up. Sweezy will move into the guard position and I truly am confident he will perform well. None of the first round OL in this years draft were graded high enough to start. I would much prefer drafting OL next year and letting our current players continue to mature and play through their best seasons this year. Stockard may be on the bubble this year. 8 years and the kids are breathing down his neck. The role of TE is changing.
While Howard miraculously fell to us I think Godwin was the pick Licht really targeted. Ever since the Evans, Vjax, ASJ trio went down the tubes I have sensed Licht looking for that third piece. Only instead of height he opted for speed and it looks like he got it. Over all I believe we had an excellent draft and due to the quality of vets, FA’s, and draftee’s I really don’t see much in our UDFA class.
The Bucs will regret not getting an OL in the first 4 rounds. They are also going to regret not solving the safety position by drafting the slow Justin Evans. I am very excited by the picks of OJ and Godwin. The RB seems undersized but maybe he can provide the receiving punch another bust by Licht (Sims) has failed to produce.
I bet at the end of the year you will regret making this post.
Why would we need a fourth round OL in a very poor draft for linemen? Who would he replace? Baboze.
Good FAB 5 SR, as usual. I wanted to mention that i watched you and Trevor (on the tv) on the first 2 draft days and never went back to ESPN or NFL Network. No commercials and conversations usually centered on our Bucs. Personally, can beat it! forget the web site articles and put Mark on. I like the 3 of you…good chemistry.
I have to agree with Dbuc63. I had NFL Network on mute while listening to you guys. I really enjoyed it. Is it possible for you guys to do this for pre-seasons games?
Brates comment about French being a romantic language gave me a chuckle. While that may be true, Quebexican, also know as Franglais up here, is a dirty variation of French that they speak in Quebec. Looking forward to seeing what this kid brings as he’s from Canada’s top collegiate football program (they’re also the only school of 26 that play college ball that makes money off their program and have a GM to manage them)
Let me be clear. I’ve got nothing against my French Canadians counterparts (I could walk to Quebec from where I grew up), but their version of the language is gross. That is all.
Speaking of bragging, all indications were Jackson would’ve been the pick at 19 had Howard not been available, according to who? I believe you were the only one mocking him to the Bucs Scott, so unless you got that nugget straight from Licht, all indications are you’re just guessing like the rest of us. Then you mention we would’ve picked the Toledo T.E. had we not drafted Howard. There were a lot of other good T.E.’s available so again it sounds like you are bragging a bit. As Sgt. Joe Friday use to say, just the facts Maam.
Licht gambled with the OL issues in the past so that is why Bucs fans are unsure of the unit.
Plus, the Bucs are relying on Benonch, and Wester to come into their own. While improvement from D. Smith, A. Marpet. K. Pamphile, and JR Sweazy would all be great. It is Benonch and Wester progressions respectively that will make or break the Bucs offense if injuries do happen. Plus, E. Smith is guaranteed to be around forever with the team, so lets hope the Bucs trust in young guys like Benonch and Wester pays off.
Unless Auclair can’t handle the heat, I will be shocked if he does not make the team.
Reason – This is Brate’s Contract year.
I agree that TE Auclair has a good chance to make the team – Koetter said yesterday that they’re high on him. Re Cam Brate, He just signed an EFRA contract. Next year 2018 he would be a RFA for which a tender would be required. Not a UFA contract year until 2019. However, I don’t think it will get that far as I’ve heard the Bucs are working on an extension. Read all of your posts and they’re very good. Go Bucs!
Thanks for the compliment. I normally seek out your comments too because I like that you reference other articles. Not sure PR likes that but it puts the frosting on the cake.
I’m always concerned about FA whether it be UFA or RFA, as so the Bucs should be. There is always a chance a team offers a player a Knucklehead contract in RFA that the Bucs would be stupid to match. Or worse case if the Bucs do not progress this year, Brate could seek playing with a winning team. Doesn’t Brate check off every box the Patriots like in a player. UGH
I know he checks off one.
I’m 6 time zones behind you so you might not see this, at least until tomorrow, but you guys do an awesom job! Sometimes we (I) forget to tell you. I’ve been following you since I subscribed to your monthly in the 90’s. The only Buc’s news I ever got out here in Hawaii.
Good grief Scott, I certainly did not think it was bragging and was not “offended” by your pointing out what you either were told or sensed about the organization’s evaluation of our offensive (no pun intended) line. See, here in Bucville, if folks believe it, some don’t want you disputing their opinion with those pesky facts. Perhaps Pewter Report sould have one of those “Safe Zones” where readers can enter a message board that only contains their own ill advised happy thoughts being regurgitated.
I am looking forward to Training Camp and seeing the progression of an offense that looks to be the best we’ve ever had.
“It’s just a number. He’ll figure it out. He’ll make his own presence felt with his own number.” -Stocker on #88
Oh snap. Stocker trying to talk with a little swag.
Good article. I don’t see any problem with a little ‘stride of pride’ when you make a prediction in the draft that comes true. Maybe some of the readers who complained are worried that this site might become more like Joebucsfan.com. If you want to see some straight brat-frat boy with his polo shirt collar turned up bragging, go over and check that out!
I’m still leery of the depth on the OL, particularly at RT. The movement of Marpet to center won’t have any effect on that. It may be that Dotson just had a bad year (he did have a concussion, which can be very serious) and will recover, but I don’t know who will play there if he doesn’t have a good year, or goes down with injury.
But, you can’t have solid depth everywhere, unless you’re the NE Patriots (who apparently have a deal going with the devil).
Great article as usual Scott! It is always a must read for any Bucs fan. And once again Martin is looking good.(with his job on the line or contract year). I just wish the Bucs would have brought someone in to push him to greatness or out the door.
Our offense is looking scary! Adding Howard allows for more TE sets which will in turn help the OL. Not to mention, we’re getting Sweezy back in the mix which should be another great addition. Our OL did improve even though we didn’t draft anyone new.
I have no idea what the bragging conversation is all about…. Thanks for the articles. I thought the draft went well and am hoping the offensive line stays healthy and we have a workable set of RBs. And a reliable kicking game.
Has there been any response for the questions posed by the members? If so I missed it and would like to have an opportunity to read it.
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