When you sit down to talk to an offensive lineman, you talk about food, apparently. Such was the case with newly acquired Bucs' center Ryan Jensen who not only likes to eat – but also likes to cook. He filled me in on his 'smoked meat masterpieces,' along with his 'nasty' on-field demeanor and living with sleep apnea as an NFL player. And provided some great photos showing his 'soft side' while he was at it. This is Behind the Buccaneers with Ryan Jensen.
Carmen Vitali: You've been described as a very 'nasty' player, does that kind of stem from a chip on your shoulder being from a small school?
Ryan Jensen: "Definitely. Through high school and through Division II school, my offensive line coach in college was – I don't want to call him a psycho – but he was kind of a psycho in the best way, in the coaching way - and that's just the way he taught me how to play offensive line. Play with that nasty streak. He used to always say, 'playing offensive line sucks,' it's very thankless and you don't get a lot of fun. His thing was always to have fun as an offensive lineman, you have to be nasty and finish your blocks and so it's grown through my career. I'm continually finishing through the whistle more and more and it's worked out good for me."
Well yeah, you're now the highest paid center in the league. Your family has to be happy about that. And you just had a baby boy?
"Yup! He's seven months old. It's awesome. It's a great experience. Wouldn't change it for the world. He's got a set of lungs on him but he's a happy baby. He's easy for the most part so far, so we're very blessed."
I see on Twitter you regularly post your smoked meat masterpieces – is that something of a hobby for you?
"I enjoy it. It's kind of a process and it's kind of challenging and it's just something I enjoy doing. I love cooking. I used to want to own my own restaurant and I remember when I was younger watching food network all the time. That's kind of how I learned to cook a little bit. I learned from my mom how to cook, I've just always enjoyed it. It's always been a good stress relief for me."
Do you think owning a restaurant is in your future?
"I've thought about dabbling in it – maybe being like a part-time cook just to see what it's about. It'd be fun. I'm not too sure what I want to do after football. Hopefully that's going to be 10 years down the road but right now I'm just enjoying life. I just kind of go with the waves and go with the motion. I try living a pretty easy life."
How's the food here at One Buc?
"It's good! I like it a lot. I mean, it's not my cooking but it gets the job done for sure."
What about any of these steakhouses we have here in Tampa?
"When I came for my first visit, Ali [Marpet] and Donovan [Smith] took me to Charley's. It was good, had a wagyu ribeye. I told myself not to eat the whole thing because I knew I was going to feel awful the next day. But I ate the whole thing. And I felt awful the next day. It was a trap because they threw me in the 'bod pod' and got my body composition the next day. It was a trap. That wasn't my best test ever. I also had the salted caramel cheesecake that night. I'm a cheesecake guy. It was disgustingly good. I told myself not to eat that whole thing and it happened. All of a sudden it was gone, I blacked out."
I'm really glad Ali and Donovan took you there. Did you have any connections to any of these guys down here previously?
"No. I didn't really know anything too much about the guys. Obviously with Dot [Demar Dotson], I've seen him play, he's been in the league a long time so I've seen tape on him – stuff like that. But I didn't really have any connection with any of the guys here outside of seeing them on tape."
So, do you like Tampa so far?
"I do. It's nice. I didn't totally know what to expect. Florida – you think Miami and that Miami-type lifestyle. I wasn't sure if Tampa was going to be like that and thankfully it's not. That's not my cup of tea. Everybody always says that Tampa is kind of like the 'Midwest of the South' so that fits who I am pretty well."
I will warn you: it gets HOT and humid here. You haven't really played in a warm climate.
"No but Baltimore would get pretty hot during camp and stuff – probably not quite as hot as here but we'd have days in camp where it was 100 degrees and 85 percent humidity like it is probably every day here. I was joking around with some people, I need to buy stock in a sunscreen company because I'm a little pale."
Yeah about that. I'm just going to ask – what do you say to people that say gingers have no souls?
"it's kind of funny because I feel like the way I play I'm kind of out there snatching souls, so I have more souls than anybody. I've got a whole bag full of souls."
In your introductory press conference, you mentioned that you were diagnosed with sleep apnea in Baltimore while you were playing. I think that's something a lot of people can relate to.
"It's a big deal. If I wouldn't have gotten diagnosed, there is no chance I'd be sitting here as, you mentioned, the highest paid center. I wouldn't even be in the league anymore. I would have fizzled out after probably my third year. It saved my career. It's a pretty simple test nowadays. A lot of people go, 'oh well I don't want to go sleep at this sleep center and have all these probes all over my head and my chest' and I didn't want to do it either but my dad has it, my brother has it. I was always smaller growing up so I didn't really think I would have it –"
Excuse me, smaller? [Jensen's current listed height and weight is 6'4, 320lbs]
"Ok, smaller is a relative term. When I graduated high school, I was 6'4", 250 pounds, like Mike Evans' size. By no means small, just compared to where I'm at now, it's pretty small. So, I never had those [sleep] issues. Going into my second year, going through training camp and all that, my body was just deteriorating. I went from like 315 to 290 in like two and a half weeks. I had constant bruises because my body wasn't healing. I went in and the tests nowadays are so easy, it's literally an at-home test. They give you an oxygen sensor that you put on your finger, a sensor that goes around your chest and there's an oxygen tube for when you stop breathing and that's really it. Obviously if they need more info, they'll have to do the in-house, very in-depth test but with me, they didn't have to because it was severe enough that they could tell I had it. I remember doing it and taking it back that next morning and they called me within two hours like, 'hey, come back as soon as you can this afternoon, this is serious, you could have some major issues.' Reggie White died from sleep apnea. He knew he had it, had his machine but never put his machine on. What happens with sleep apnea is you stop breathing and your body shocks yourself awake, your brain shocks you awake and when you start getting older, that's bad for your heart they think that he gave himself a heart attack and he died. It's a serious thing, it's not just, 'oh, I'm not getting a lot of sleep,' it's serious. There are a lot more health risks to it than just not getting a good night's sleep."