Ali Marpet is moving to a new position (again) in 2018, and that prompted a new approach to the offseason.
It wasn't a huge change. Marpet has obviously been doing something right in his previous offseasons because he seamlessly made the transition from Division III ball to the NFL and then just as successfully evolved from a college tackle to an NFL right guard, and then last year to a center. Marpet doesn't have any Pro Bowl or postseason honors yet, but he is widely regarded as a rapidly ascending NFL talent.
"It's been challenging but I think I'm doing a pretty nice job of it," said Marpet of his movement around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line. "Obviously it's been what's best for the team at the time, so any way that I can help us win – doesn't matter the position – I'm excited to do that. That's what it is."
After manning right guard in his first two seasons (2015-16) and center last year, Marpet will now line up at left guard on the Buccaneers' new-look front. The team was not disappointed in his work at the pivot, but free agency brought in coveted center Ryan Jensen, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, and that allowed the Bucs to address two positions by shifting Marpet one spot over.
While there are similarities to the work required at all five positions on an O-Line – the job, at its core, is to keep people away from the quarterback and push people around in the running game – there are specific demands at each position. When Marpet learned he was going back to guard he realized he needed to add some bulk.
"Generally I think at guard you've got to be able to anchor a little bit better when a three-tech has got a head start on you," he said. "So that's a little bit different. That's about it."
Marpet was listed as a 307-pound center last year and he's probably not too far off that as a guard this year. He set he has added "a couple pounds" but more importantly feels "a lot stronger." That should help as Tampa Bay tries to fix a running game that has produced subpar results the last two years. One of the qualities that drew the Bucs to Jensen in free agency was that he was a whistle-to-whistle mauler with a mean streak. They believe third-round guard Alex Cappa has the same approach. It seems clear the Bucs want to be tougher and "nastier" up front, and putting Marpet at left guard should help with that. One thing is certain: Buccaneer offensive linemen are taking this issue personally.
"It's tough to put your finger on why we haven't been successful, but it's clear that we haven't been successful in the run game," said Marpet. "We need to be better. I think the offensive line as a whole has taken ownership of the fact that we haven't been performing at the level that we'd like to. But again, I know what we're capable of. I think we'll find a way; we have a great coaching staff. I think we'll be changing some things and I think we'll be doing a nice job in the run game, obviously."
Moving away from center will take some responsibilities away from Marpet in terms of recognizing and calling out defensive shifts and the like. It also means he won't have to worry about firing a good snap off before getting in position to block. But as Marpet mentioned, it means he will have to be even more stout against some of the biggest and best interior pass-rushers in the game. The good news is that one season at center will actually help him in his current transition; it served as something of a stepping stone from playing on the right side to playing on the left.
"At center, you do have to take some…essentially it becomes left-guard sets," he said. "So it's something I have done. I think it will translate and I'm excited to play left guard this year. I think I'm going to do a really nice job there."