Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.

I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook below in the article comments section.


 

Tom Brady.

Rob Gronkowski.

Mike Evans.

Chris Godwin.

Shaq Barrett.

Jason Pierre-Paul.

Lavonte David.

Tampa Bay’s star-studded lineup of Pro Bowlers is impressive. The national media is abuzz, heaping praise on the new-look Buccaneers on football shows on NFL Network or ESPN. Fans are dying to see these guys in action. For the first time in a long time Tampa Bay feels like a legitimate playoff contender.

And the Bucs should be.

On paper, it looks like general manager Jason Licht, head coach Bruce Arians and the front office has done a terrific job this offseason in building a playoff-caliber team.

Maybe even more.

Bucs offensive line
Bucs offensive line – Photo by Mary Holt/PR

And while Tampa Bay looks like it can make some noise in 2020, the one unit that will control how far they will go is the offensive line – the big boys up front.

Football has been, and always will be, about which team can tackle the best and which team can block the best. We tend to over-complicate things at times and love to talk about 1,000 yard receivers, Hall of Fame quarterbacks and double-digit sackers. But without the beef up front a team won’t win many games, much less make a Super Bowl run.

A team doesn’t have to have five Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, but it needs five smart, tough and technically sound linemen if it wants to win in the NFL. And while there has been talent on the offensive line for the Buccaneers over the last several years, getting all five on the same page has proven difficult.

The results speak for themselves, evidenced by 40, 41 and 47 sacks surrendered in each of the past three years, in addition to a running game that has ranked in the bottom third over that span of time, too.

The old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That definitely applies to offensive lines as well. If four of the five linemen do their job, but the fifth fails, a running back get stuffed for a loss or a quarterback ends up with grass stains on his jersey.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Tampa Bay has three offensive lineman – Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen, who all make at least $10 million a season. There’s no excuse for a quarterback to get sacked 47 times in a season or only average 95.1 yards per game rushing as we saw in 2019. This unit has under-performed over the last few years and contributed to the team’s 12-year playoff drought.

The O-line isn’t the only reason. Quarterback turnovers, average running back talent, a porous defense until last year, and questionable coaching have all contributed to Tampa Bay’s decade-plus of futility. Until the Bucs’ offensive line improves, chances are the record won’t get much better either.

Yet there is cause for optimism that will be changing.

One of those things is the Brady effect.

With Brady – who is widely regarded by most as the greatest quarterback in NFL history – accountability will be greater moving forward. Brady’s resume speaks for itself and proves if given enough time and protection he can win a lot of ball games.

Brady elevates players around him. Below average players all of a sudden become average players. Average players all of a sudden become above-average players. Through leadership – some vocal but much by example – the other 10 players on New England’s offense tended to up their game when No. 12 was on the field over the past two decades.

Nobody wants to be the offensive lineman who whiffs on a block that gets Brady drilled and out for the season with an injury. Accountability will be big in 2020 – bigger than it has been in Tampa Bay since Jon Gruden was the head coach. That is something that hasn’t always been the case on the Bucs’ offensive line as of late.

“I was super excited to hear it when we signed Brady and everything,” Smith said. “Basically me and my guys are going to have the opportunity to block for the greatest quarterback of all time, in NFL history. So I was super excited about it and I was ready to go. It gave us something to look forward to with all of these things going on, in terms of the pandemic and everything, it just gave us a boost to look forward to come season time.”

Adding first-round selection Tristan Wirfs should also make the offensive line better. Maybe not right out of the gate, but certainly in the future. The addition of Wirfs should also help to motivate Smith to up his game. While his job is safe for 2020, Smith is under contract in 2021, but without any guaranteed money. There is a chance that Wirfs, who played both left and right tackle at Iowa, but mostly on the right side, could be pushing to possibly be Smith’s replacement.

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs
Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs – Photo by: Getty Images

Teams don’t tend to normally draft a tackle in the Top 15 to be long-term right tackles. The premium position on the offensive line is still on the left side, as evidenced by the money left tackles make versus right tackles. Tampa Bay’s front office and coaching staff would love nothing more than for Smith to elevate his game to the point where Wirfs has to stay on the right side for the next few years.

This isn’t a column to just pick on Smith. The guard and center positions will also need to elevate their play as well if the Bucs want to see a deep playoff run in 2020. Ali Marpet has been somewhat hindered by the previous staff’s musical chairs they have played with him since he was drafted, having played both guard positions and a year at center.

But Marpet will be going into his third season at left guard, sandwiched between Smith and center Ryan Jensen. Those three are paid handsomely and need to fully live up to their potential in 2020. Jensen’s play improved last year after a disappointing 2019 campaign, which was a good sign.

Another promising sign that gives hope to the offensive line improving is that four of the five – Smith, Marpet, Jensen and guard Alex Cappa – have played together for a while, and now will be entering their second year in Bruce Arians’ offense. Their confidence should grow, and also the coaching at the position should also be better.

Joe Gilbert and Harold Goodwin have had a year to evaluate their unit and now know what each player does well and what area they have deficiencies in. Part of being a great coach is maximizing every ounce of  talent from their players and recognizing their strengths and weaknesses and playing that to their advantage.

Gilbert and Goodwin must get the most of out their guys in 2020, and should be able to after a year with these guys.

Bucs run game coordinator Harold Goodwin
Bucs run game coordinator Harold Goodwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Playing offensive line in the NFL is no easy task. Having five players being on the same page for 70 plays a game is even more difficult.

Think about it – what is the only position in the NFL that can’t tap their helmets to signal to the sidelines they need a breather? What unit in the NFL can play perfectly for 69 of those 70 plays, but make one mistake and they draw the ire of fans who scream and cuss them?

Yep, offensive linemen.

No one is feeling sorry for them however. They signed up for the job, and most get paid rather well. Criticism comes with the job. That’s just life in the social media world.

While most offensive linemen will always be under-appreciated by the average fan, make no mistake they will impact how far this team goes in 2020 just as much as Brady, Gronkowski and the other Pro Bowlers on this team. And who knows? If the O-line plays well, especially with more national exposure this year, and the Bucs make the playoffs, there could be a Tampa Bay offensive lineman or two that joins Brady and Gronkowski in the Pro Bowl this year.

The complete success or failure of the 2020 Buccaneers won’t lie solely on the offensive line. Luck and team health are involved, Tampa Bay’s defense needs to continue to develop, and the Bucs need their kicker to not miss three kicks in the season finale or any game.

This Tampa Bay team has a chance to put it all together and go far in 2020, and it all starts with the five guys upfront.


CANNON BLAST

Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.

• Maybe I am dreaming too much, but I believe the Tom Brady-to-Tampa Bay move is going to make Donovan Smith a better football player. For the record, Smith isn’t a bad football player. He’s actually pretty good at times. If you think he is overpaid, just see what he would get had he been an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Left tackles don’t grow on trees, and durable ones like Smith are even more rare. Yes, he could be frustrating at times. A lot of the times, honestly.


But you can already tell that Smith is getting more serious about his craft as he matures. Smith has been more active on social media with his posts showing his workouts and such. He also has been praising the Bucs’ move to bring Brady to Tampa Bay. Smith doesn’t want to be the one who get blamed if Brady gets sacks 47 times this year or – heaven forbid – gets injured. I like the new Donovan. Let’s hope if translates to the field.

Zack Galifinakis
Zack Galifinakis – Photo from YouTube

If this pandemic thing was a Hollywood movie, Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger (or Zack Galifinakis) would swoop in with a miracle cure or fist fight COVID-19 and the world would be saved – as would the 2020 football season. But I’m getting a little nervous. So far there hasn’t been a real life Willis, Schwarzenegger or “Alan from The Hangover” to save us and the much-anticipated football season.

The NFL schedule comes out Thursday evening and it has been reported by NFL insider John Clayton that the first four weeks of the year will be the NFC vs. AFC match-ups only. This is a contingency plan for if the season is amended and games have to be canceled. I understand what the NFL might be doing – if the report is accurate – but man, who wouldn’t rather see the Chiefs and Bucs open the season in prime time as opposed to to a Thursday night game against the Panthers down the road?

Let’s hope the first four games of the season – when the Bucs might host Kansas City and travel to face Jon Gruden’s Las Vegas Raiders – don’t get cancelled. Those are two must-see games.

I get it, though. The league has to have a balanced divisional and conference schedule to make things fair for all 32 teams. Bucs fans keep praying, sending good vibes, or even casting voodoo spells – whatever it takes – to send this COVID-19 into remission so we can have a full 16-game season that starts and ends on time in 2020.

And am I the only who thinks Galifinakis is due for a leading man or action hero role in Hollywood? No? Okay, maybe not.

• Is there any doubt now who the Buccaneers’ biggest rivals will in the NFC are? It has to be the Saints. First of all, New Orleans is the top team in the division with back-to-back 13-3 seasons. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

I believe Conrad Drummond said that to Arnold is a 1983 episode of the TV classic Diff’rent Strokes. I may be wrong … but you get the point.

Tom Brady and Drew Brees
Tom Brady and Drew Brees – Photo by: Getty Images

Next, the best two quarterbacks in NFL history – at least from a statistical point – will face each other twice a year in Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That just oozes rivalry.

And now even throw in the Jameis Winston move to the Saints, and it antes up things a little more.

This year is going to be fun, Bucs fans.

Last Laugh

Do you like this edition of The Hook? Please donate to PewterReport.com today to help our business overcome the financial hardship due to COVID-19. One-time donations start as low as $10 – or you can donate monthly for as low as $3 per month. Thank you for your support! CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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e

That’s about the most relevant article that I’ve seen from PR in a while.

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danielob

I agree that the success of the team will probably lie with the Offensive line. The right side has always been the weakness the past few years, Cappa seems to have solidified the Right Guard position but I think Wirfs is going to need some help early in the season but should shine as the season goes on, but look for the “rookie wall” late in the season. As much as I like and admire Dotson he, by his own admission, did not run block well, so now the defenses won’t concentrate so much on stuffing the run by the… Read more »

EricNV

Dot’s weaknesses showed up most in run blocking situations. Wirf’s should be an immediate upgrade from that perspective, and the Bucs should be a heavy run-first team the first half of the season to allow time for Wirfs to acclimate and Brady + receivers to get on the same page.

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BrooklynBucsFan

I feel like Brady will also help the offensive line by getting them in the correct blocking alignments pre snap. He’s one of the best ever at that and I’m sure that will help. Also, if Wirfs is slow to pick things up in camp, I can imagine Haeg getting the start at RT for the first 4-5 games of the season before Wirfs takes over. Hoping we actually get to see football this year and excited to watch this team! Go Bucs!

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Spruce

I don’t agree. Brady will read the defense better then you’ve ever seen and call audibles that involve changing running back blocking assignment on blitzes or tight end realignment on occasion but has little to do with down lineman. Coaching and reps will make them good if they are go be good. Running backs can either pick up blitzes and block or they can’t and no QB ever help a tackle too slow to react to an elite edge rusher.

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bucballer

The Bucs OLine will play better just because it’s Tom Brady under center. I believe PR said it best… the Brady effect! It will be real and the OLine will clean up the little things if nothing else. Brady won’t tolerate doggin it! U can bet that! So, I look for improved play from the OLine this year because of this “Brady” effect and the fact that they draft this beast of man child, Wirfs. I look for him to get a little bigger and a little stronger at One Buc Place. I think the kid starts from day 1… Read more »

Spruce

Gonna wish you luck with that. Last year Brady won no games with his arm for the Pat’s. The line had injury issues and a lack of cohesion and this Brady affect of which you speak was nowhere to be found. The greatest offensive line coach in the NFL couldn’t fix it and get the running game going. Talent is what is going to be needed. Talent and coaching.

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Alldaway 2.0

Bucs oline will prove to be more than serviceable if I had to take a guess. How the young players like Wirfs, Cappa, and Bailey develop will determine long term success of the unit though. If Marpet and D. Smith can improve that would be even better. I think that the Bucs have most of the pieces on the OL in place. It will probably take another two off seasons to put together a strong starting five and have 2-3 strong reserves. But given how most NFL teams are struggling to find OL starters and depth I think the Bucs… Read more »

Jdgamble31

Great article Mark !! Well done 👍🏼

🙌🏻👍🏼🤘🏼

GO BUCS !!

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Theerealdiehl

I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for a long time now that a change in QB will have a positive effect on the perception of this offensive line. If this team can decrease the predictability of it’s play-calling (meaning not always playing from behind) and having to throw the ball, that will pay dividends. Furthermore, I’ve always thought Jameis went through his progressions slowly and at times, wants the deep ball when the underneath is open. If history is any indication, TB will be better at reading the defenses, getting through his progressions, will take the quick slant/out routes, works with… Read more »

BigSombrero

O line will definitely be a critical element to the success of the team, as will the progress of the secondary. Health is the other huge factor. Here’s to hoping the Bucs O line gels, the secondary tightens it’s coverage, and to the health of all Bucs players!

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BucRy

In previous years under the old coaching staff, Smith seemed to take some plays off or get lazy in his blocks at times. Under Arians, Smith grew as a player and showed a lot more hustle than other years (remember that hit on Marcus peters pick 6?) I like how he is growing as a player and he has always had one important attribute to him which is availability. Smith got a huge contract and he is a bit overpaid, but that’s not his fault that that’s the market for left tackles. I really think playing for Brady will make… Read more »

Gatordoc1

I think Cook likes Galifinakis because they look alike.

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Spitfire

The best thing for us would be if Smith showed this year that when a QB is under center that gets rid of the ball on time and uses his quick routes that he can be a top notch LT. If the Oline improves this year while having to protect for a normal amount of time and Wirfs holds down the RT position, we could be looking good for a while and maybe only be looking for a future Center. I have a good feeling that the Oline will hold down strong this year and prove reliable moving forward. Our… Read more »

Dman

For that to happen BA and Leftwich have to back off the 5 and 7 step drops and their downfield passing game. Switching to the Patriot offense probably could have helped us last season as well.

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Dman

This O line has been average to below average for a long time. Last season it was among the league leaders in RB’s getting hit behind the line and QB sacks, despite making excuses of QB’s holding the ball too long. The players and the coaches have some work to do. The three “Big Money” guys have been mediocre the last couple years. Cappa has worked hard and is on a path to be average. Haeg was a solid pick-up and is a step up from Dotson if needed. Let’s see how fast Wirfs can come up to speed. Rate… Read more »

Spruce

Tell you what Brady brings is the smartest most intense QB in football. Gronk a clutch receiver but one of the best blocking tight ends ever. The line will need to be really good. You had Winston last year who could make something happen under pressure with his legs and Brady is the opposite. If the line is porous, the running game weak and play action ineffective get used to seeing the ball go sailing out of bounds. Arians better be at the top of his game as well because Brady will demand absolute precision in route assignments and down… Read more »

Jdgamble31

This is a genuine question, so I hope I get some feedback / differing opinions:

Should we or should we not bring back Dot for depth / leadership / give him the possibility of a playoff run?

I know we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t good for the team , but if it’s a win win ?

What say you Bucs fans ??

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BucRy

Dot did express desires to come back at the end of the season last year, but I also recall him saying that he wouldn’t come back playing for “pennies” so with that said and with our tight cap situation right now, I do not think it is going to happen.

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scubog

Big Dot is a great guy. For the past 2-3 seasons he has looked absolutely awkward in pass protection. His run blocking has been inconsistent and at 6′-9″ sure can’t get his pads low. It seemed every time there was a decent running play, Big Dot would get the flag. But the real reason I don’t see him returning is that he isn’t versatile enough to be the “6th man”.

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Captain Sly

To your question, If Dotson was at least average there wouldn’t have been no reason to draft Wirfs. The truth is Dot has nothing left to offer, why waiste salary cap space and a spot on the 53 man roster for someone who will not Play.

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thegeebo

Analytics show that sack rate is a QB stat, not an O-line stat. In other words, Winston was the reason Winston got sacked so much. Take the FSU sleep mask off and wake up already: this was a playoff team last year that got wrecked by turnovers. The run game was held back by Leftwich, who loved predictably calling HB dive on so many first downs. He wasn’t doing Winston and favors. Brady knows how to read defenses and will call the game at the line of scrimmage. SO EXCITED Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please… Read more »

Captain Sly

You are correct in your assessment!
Nobody wants to talk about it but Leftwich was huge letdown and he actually sunk Winston career. We like the stats but the stats are misleading…..
I Personally don’t see Brady allowing an amateur to put a stain on his career. Expect Leftwich to be holding Brady’s clip board this Year!

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Spruce

Fox bet and Cowherd have the Buc’s at 9 and 7 and a wild card bid. Not good enough to beat Brees and the Saints they say. Makes sense. Brady is about absolute precision and there will likely be a limited pre season if there is a season at all. Brady loves reps and execution. He demands receivers not only run exacting routes but they mind meld with him when they see certain things in the defense and each knows what adjustments to make. There may not be enough time to prepare and the Bucs are one team that will… Read more »

drdneast

Do you mean to say after 7 years Licht has finally built an OL that might be above average.
Both Marpet and Jensen are good players but are overpaid by at least 2 million each.
And it may make some angry, but 13.5 million for a RT is a bargain

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FireLichtMovement

Marpet is not overpaid at all. He is THE man on the o line, and is paid like it. Jensen and Donovan Smith are overpaid for sure, but are both solid players. Most people arent factoring in that we have good younger players still on their rookie contracts, consistently outperforming their salary, i.e. Chris Godwin, Vita Vea and some younger defensive players. A few players may be overpaid, but the hungry young guys even it out. Looking forward to see what our Bucs do this season.

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Horse

The biggest issue right now is how the COVID-19 is effecting the Buccaneers? Are all teams in the same situation as us? I got to believe those teams who Offenses who have been in tact for years ,and especially the QB’s, have a great advantage over new QB’s to a team including Brady this off season. It’s why I keep asking Pewter Report to dig harder to find out what is going on behind the scene’s as to training.

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FireLichtMovement

Im not sure I agree with your assessment that LT is still the premium paid position as defenses have changed dramatically to get after the passer. Lane Johnson is the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL and he has played RT, almost exclusively, his entire career. Also, he was the 4th overall pick.

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CrackerBall

“This isn’t a column to just pick on Smith”

Why not? He is the highest paid, yet lowest performing OL starter on our team. I believe we should start right there. He’s a horrible run blocker and marginal at pass-blocking. Not exactly what you should get for $14 million per. I hope he’s jettisoned after 2020 and replaced by next year’s #1 Draft pick. Then we’re good for a few years.

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