So what is the Bucs’ plan along the offensive line now that Tampa Bay has parted ways with veteran reserve center-guard Evan Smith just days after announcing that backup interior offensive lineman Michael Liedtke was placed on injured reserve with a season-ending shoulder injury?

Chances are that Liedtke was going to make the 53-man roster due to his ability to not only play guard, but also left tackle in pinch. And the team was hopeful that Smith could rebound from offseason surgery on both hips to challenge for a roster spot, but he did not play well at center in Tampa Bay’s preseason opener at Pittsburgh. Releasing Smith, who was signed as the team’s starting center in 2014, saves the Bucs $2 million in salary cap space.

Bucs OL Michael Liedtke – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

So what do these two moves mean for the Bucs, and how does their departure shuffle the deck in terms of the 53-man roster?

Tampa Bay’s starting five offensive linemen appear to be set in stone after the preseason opener. Left tackle Donovan Smith and left guard Ali Marpet are solid, and an improving Ryan Jensen anchors the middle of the line at center. Right tackle Demar Dotson returns for his 11th season with the Bucs, and last year’s third-round pick, Alex Cappa, has shown enough progress to start at right guard after making the transition from left tackle at Humboldt State.

The Bucs will keep a total of nine offensive linemen, so that means there will be four reserves. The first lineman off the bench figures to be versatile veteran newcomer Earl Watford, who has played for head coach Bruce Arians and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin in Arizona. Watford can play all five positions along the offensive line, including center, which he’s been practicing at most recently in training camp.

Caleb Benenoch, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2016, seems more at home at right tackle than he did at left tackle. And like Watford, he can play left tackle in a pinch, as he’s been cross-training there in training camp.

Bucs RT Caleb Benenoch
Bucs RT Caleb Benenoch – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The other two offensive line spots are up for grabs. Rookie center-guard Nate Trewyn (6-3, 313) had a good showing in Pittsburgh in his first NFL action. He showed good hustle when he alertly dashed towards Ryan Griffin’s fumble in the fourth quarter and recovered it.

Rookie guard Zack Bailey (6-5, 299) also had his moments against the Steelers, but there are three more weeks of camp left and three more preseason games to go in terms of evaluation. Neither Trewyn nor Bailey has locked up a roster spot yet.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht and the pro personnel scouts will be on the lookout for upgrades through August and into September as teams begin to trim their rosters in advance of August 31, the NFL’s roster cut-down date from 90 to 53. There is a good chance that the offensive linemen to fill the last two roster spots on the team yet and may not arrive until September. In the meantime, it looks like the Bucs have at least found their top seven as the team enters its third week of training camp.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

13 COMMENTS

  1. Have been wondering about this so thanks for the update! Definitely am leaning towards the belief that one or two of those last OL spots are not on our roster currently.

    For the record, we only saved a little less than 1.4 million in cap space letting Smith go because his salary in the top 51 is being replaced by someone making 645K. So 2M – 0.645M = ~1.4M

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    • True Wright. But if the Bucs sign another player at $2 million it will only count $1.4 million as the new contract will replace someone making $645K. So saying that the cap space created by releasing Evans is $2 mil is accurate.

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  2. We need a new pro personnel director because it seems we do a much better job bringing in college free agents than we do finding other teams rejects. Why is it the Patriots and successful teams like them get their oline later in the draft and have success developing them.

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  3. Benenoch MUST go bye, bye. Sorry big boy, slow feet, poor athlete, not strong, not much to like, watch him play at tackle was almost as bad as when he played guard, TERRIBLE. Cappa really played well in 1st preseason game! SOLID play at RG 1st game! Keep up work and may have starting RG. Draft will have to be huge next year for O-line, 1st two picks, must be LT. and RT. Whether starters or depth, need both at the Tackle positions! Where is the coaching to pick up some reserves??? NE does it every year?!

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  4. O line. Great teams are built around O line and D lines.

    Let’s see how we do.

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  5. We have a weak backup offensive line issue and we might have to trade someone for a quality veteran.
    Trade Brate for a good OL.

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  6. @Horse, I would be on the phone with the Redskins offering JPP & 4th rd for Trent Williams or at least seeing what it’ll take to get him. A move like that can turn your fortunes around Quickly! We need to stop hoping some of these rejects will work out and go all in for a proven Vet.

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    • I don’t think at this point in time JPP is worth anything more than a 6th or 7th round pick because it is doubtful he will be able to contribute much of anything this year.
      We have a need for an DL and an OL and we have to convince another team who has a need for a light weight TE/WR type to swap. Brate is a decent TE and could help a play off bound team now. I don’t believe Spence will do much of anything nor the other side of the DE position too.

      That’s why I’m pitching Brate. He a good team player and I have supported him from the get go as a sleeper, but he has hit his potential and we have others who can fill that spot. Again, just my opinion.

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  7. I agree with Borkdog! Stop wasting good coaching on Benenoch. Cut him now. Put that coaching effort on the new OT from the Redskins and let’s see what he can do. Boozer was equally awful at OT too. At 275 lbs he is not heavy enough. Holcomb was tried at Tackle last year for Dotson and he was impressive. He is heavy enough and is listed as a Tackle so try him there. With his Guard experience he will make a keeper as a talented backup along with Watford. You can try Boozer inside or cut him. He is very poor! I am pulling for Zach Bailey too. He proved himself in the rugged SEC. He should only need to adapt to the NFL speed and make a good backup Guard for us. I also have hope our Coaches can develop Stevie T into a good backup NT. He played very well for Southern Cal awhile back. I doubt he had the money to keep himself in top condition in the off season so our strength coach needs to get him back to top condition. With Vea out we need Stevie T to spell Beau Allen.

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  8. Interesting. I thought Evan Smith had a decent game vs Pittsburgh.

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  9. Smith has been underwhelming since he came here. He only stuck around this long because we have no depth and he could play more than one position.

    I hope someone is available before season starts. Been saying this even before Steelers game we have no depth at all on O line and it’s bit scary. We don’t even know if all the starters like Cappa will be ok.

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  10. Smith committed too many mental errors which isn’t good enough. Not to single out Smith because Watford and LeRebius also made errors in pre season game 1 and they are vets too. But none of the backup OL are really safe if they commit too many mental errors. Bucs are moving toward a new philosophy regarding building the OL and roster in general. Assignment football is priority #1.

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  11. 76Buc – as you astutely pointed out the Patriots do somehow manage to trot out a low round draft pick or UDFA or 2 every year and they actually play well. I believe it DOES have everything to do with coaching. This guy Dante Scarnecchia in New England is the Bill Belichick of OLine coaches, and he’s been with the Patriots for 34 (yes 34) years. While I DO believe the Patriots do a better than average job of drafting decent talent, it’s Belichick’s top-notch staff that keeps them on Freaking Top almost every year. I think we FINALLY have a similar level of coaching here. I am willing to give this current Bucs coaching staff a little time to get these guys up to speed on the Oline. Hopefully not before getting Jameis killed.

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