Rookie guard Ali Marpet spent the first four days of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp running with the second-team offensive line, but he knew his turn was coming. Day Five of camp was a much appreciated break for the players; Day Six finally brought Marpet his opportunity.
Two days into the Bucs' training camp, Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter put the specifics to the team's battle for the starting right guard job. It was a three-way competition, Koetter said, between Marpet, Kadeem Edwards and Garrett Gilkey. Marpet, a second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, is considered the long-term solution at the position but he won't be handed the job as the team also considers second-year man Edwards and 2014 waiver-wire pickup Gilkey.
The rotation started with Gilkey for two days, after which Edwards got his turn. The move made sense, as Marpet spent that entire time on the second team, learning about the differences between the NFL and the football played at his alma mater, Division III Hobart. Putting Marpet third in the rotation wasn't an indication of his chances to win the job, it was just a smart move meant to bring the rookie along gradually.
"I think it was a smooth transition," said Marpet. "I know moving forward we're still going to be rotating at right guard and I know the position is up for grabs, but it was a smooth transition to start with the twos and then finally getting reps with the ones today. And again, I still have a lot of things to work on."
In one sense, the job is the same whether you're playing on the first, second or third line. In a larger sense, however, the challenge is far different when you graduate to first chair. That's because the Buccaneers are currently running ones against ones, two against twos and threes against threes. The competition gets better as you move up the ladder, and that's especially true at right guard, where Gerald McCoy is waiting for the guards like the final boss of a video game.
"Going against Gerald was something else," said Marpet after Thursday's practice at One Buccaneer Place. "If you can block him you're going to be able to block a lot of other guys in the league, so it's awesome having a guy like him against you every play. He got me a whole lot, but knowing that I can get him if I am technically sound is huge for me."
Photos of quarterback Jameis Winston at Buccaneers Training Camp.
Facing the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle actually was an advantage in more ways than one for Marpet. In addition to the physical challenge, McCoy also made a point of helping his foe-slash-teammate with pointers based on what he learned in their one-on-one battles.
"He corrects some things," said Marpet of McCoy. "There are a lot of things technically that I need to clean up. Sometimes my base gets a little wide, and he's told me to shorten that up a little bit. He's been encouraging, and even though we're competing, he's still helping me out, which is awesome to have."
Marpet's ascension to the first line coincided with the arrival of the most grueling weather conditions of the first week of camp. While the rain that complicated matters from Saturday through Monday was inconvenient, it did have some advantages over the more typical sauna that descended on One Buc on Thursday. Marpet, a New York native, got his Florida indoctrination on Thursday, and managed to make it through to the other side.
"Today was the first bad day for me," he said. "I'm trying to drink as much as I can, but then I'm feeling water-logged. I'm getting used to it but it's definitely something else. I thought I did pretty well. It was a good change of pace."
If Marpet wins the right guard job, he'll be charged with protecting fellow rookie Jameis Winston, the team's starting quarterback. During the most challenging moments of Thursday's practice, it was an encouraging Winston who helped Marpet stay on his feet.
"It's awesome having him in the huddle," said Marpet of his fellow member of the Class of 2015. "He's such a competitive guy, such a positive guy. I'm dying, I'm sweating, I'm breathing heavy, and he's like, 'Come on, come on, get up, get up.' It's awesome having him in the huddle. He's a super-positive guy and it's awesome to have that."
Marpet will presumably get another day with the first team on Friday before the rotation resumes. He'll do his best to squeeze as much out of those reps against McCoy and company as possible, and he'll continue his transition to the most difficult level of football that exists.
"The biggest difference, again, is the quickness," said Marpet. "The strength I've been able to handle, but everything is so quick, the whole game. It's just a lot faster."