Ali Marpet is used to change.
Three years ago, he was the most dominant offensive tackle in Division 3 football. It could be argued that he was one of the most accomplished players in Division 3 history, given that no player had ever been drafted at a higher position.
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But in the NFL, Marpet was projected as an interior offensive lineman and quickly made the shift from tackle, where he had played for most of his life, to guard. Not only was he able to secure a starting spot for the opening game of his rookie year, Marpet has, in two years, established himself as one of the best in the league at the position.
Pictures from the Bucs' OTA practice.
According to Pro Football Focus, Marpet was the No. 13 guard in the NFL in 2016. He was also the No. 5 player at his position in terms of run blocking, according to the site. Despite his success, Marpet is in the middle of yet another position change – from guard to center.
The mindset behind the move was to get the five best offensive linemen on the field at once, and Head Coach Dirk Koetter believed moving Marpet from guard to center allowed that. Marpet has been working as the Bucs' first-team center through a week and a half of OTAs and has handled the transition as Koetter expected he would.
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"Ali is full speed ahead," Koetter said. "He's doing fine, center is one of our deepest positions right now. Again, as we've said all along, trying to get our best five out there. Once the season starts you've got to be able to move guys around. They've got to be able to go to multiple spots."
Marpet had worked as one of the Bucs' scout team centers a year ago and knew the position change could be coming eventually. Although he has been playing the position full-time for less than two weeks, he's already beginning to feel comfortable at center.
"(I've progressed) so much," Marpet said, "considering this is the sixth OTA or something like that. I feel a lot better in just a short amount of time, which feels pretty good."
Prior to the start of OTAs, Marpet said he felt the position would suit him naturally as he prefers to play in tighter quarters. He admitted that processing the new information that comes with playing center could be difficult, but feels confident in his ability to adjust to his new surroundings.
The move has not only added depth to the center position – it has added depth to the entire offensive line. With Marpet at center, Joe Hawley and Evan Smith – both proven starters – are ready to come off of the bench, whether it be at center or guard. And J.R. Sweezy and Kevin Pamphile are both able to take the field at the same time, as opposed to competing for one guard spot. The Buccaneers hope that they won't need to utilize that depth, but having the option is a luxury few teams enjoy.