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.
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.
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.