All signs point to Ali Marpet playing a new position when the Buccaneers kick off the 2017 season in Miami on September 10th. Marpet, the Buccaneers' second-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, transitioned from a tackle in college to a guard in the NFL. Entering his third season, he's preparing for the shift from guard to center.
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"What I know is that when we start Phase Two, I'll be playing center," Marpet said during a press conference at One Buccaneer Place on Monday. "I think the rationale was that Coach Koetter wanted to put the best five out on the field so whatever order that is, that's the reason why. So I'll start off at center and see how it plays out.
"I'm excited to try and play center. It'll be new for me. It's a new position. I mean, I've gotten some reps at it but to play real snaps at center is different."
Marpet was one of the NFL's best run-blocking guards in 2016. He earned a run-blocking grade of 84.4 by Pro Football Focus, which was the fifth-best of any guard in the league. Marpet has taken reps as the Bucs' scout team center during practices and said he feels comfortable playing in close quarters, so the transition should be smooth.
"I think I'll honestly be a pretty good center because I prefer to have a really small space," Marpet said. "I think I'll be able to succeed there."
The move from guard to center could be a sign that J.R. Sweezy, one of the Buccaneers' key free agent signings last spring, will be ready to step into the starting lineup. Sweezy missed all of the 2016 season recovering from an injury. He is expected to step in at left guard, potentially moving Kevin Pamphile over to right guard while Marpet steps in at center. Both of the Bucs' starting tackles from a year ago, Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, will also be back.
With the move, the Buccaneers find themselves with some solid depth heading into training camp. Joe Hawley, a two-year starter at center, could be coming off the bench, as could Evan Smith, who has experience as a starter at both guard and center.
Photos from G Ali Marpet's 2016 campaign.