The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' center position has been the center of attention in the 2022 preseason, and not for enviable reasons.
The upheaval began on the second day of training camp when Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen went down with a significant knee injury. The Buccaneers know they will be without his services until at least November but are still trying to determine if he can return at some point during the season. That thrust second-year player Robert Hainsey, a versatile third-round pick out of Notre Dame into the spotlight. He and second-year player Nick Leverett were pinpointed as the primary competitors for the difficult job of replacing Jensen. Hainsey appeared to be in the lead as he started all three preseason games at that point.
And so it was a shocking sight to see both Hainsey and Leverett removed from Saturday's game in Indianapolis in short order due to injuries. Hainsey sustained an ankle injury early in the second quarter but was able to walk off the field after a short time. Leverett, who was playing right guard at the time, slid over into Hainsey's spot but later came out due to a shoulder ailment. Neither returned to the game. Head Coach Todd Bowles didn't have much to report after the game, saying both players would need to get X-rays to determine the severity of their injuries.
On Monday, Bowles indicated that the results of those tests were not yet in. The Buccaneers did not arrive back from Indianapolis until after 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning.
"They got X-rays done," said Bowles. "I have not talked to the trainers yet. They got in late so we will see when they get around to it."
After Jensen's injury, the Buccaneers focused on internal replacements but kept their eye on available free agents. That list will likely grown between Sunday and Tuesday as all 32 teams trim their rosters from 80 players down to 53 for the regular season. The Buccaneers could also try to work a trade for help on the interior line but have no guarantee they'll find a willing partner. The urgency with which the team pursues either of those options will be informed by the results of the tests on Hainsey and Leverett. The Buccaneers also lost an important interior line piece a week ago when guard Aaron Stinnie sustained a season-ending knee injury.
"There is not a sense of urgency unless we lose the two that went down yesterday," said Bowles. "You have to have somebody willing to give you a good football player. Nobody is going to give you a good football player and nobody is going to feel sorry for you. We're going to look at the waiver wire and look at some trades to see if we can find some things out there, but if there is nothing out there, we've got some guys in-house that can still play. Again, we will wait for the results and see where these two guys are and move on from there."
Bowles also repeated on Monday that the Buccaneers still do not have a definitive prognosis on Jensen's recovery time. Meanwhile, second-round rookie Luke Goedeke, who has started the last two games at left guard, is moving in the right direction in the battle to secure that job and replaced retired Pro Bowler Ali Marpet.
"Again, we still have to discuss it," said Bowles. "He's doing a lot of good things right now. We will look at the tape as a team with our offensive line coaches and make a decision. But, he has helped himself a little more, so hopefully that comes out to be."
The Buccaneers will open their 2022 season with new starters at all three interior-line spots, with trade-acquistion Shaq Mason slotted in at right guard to replace the departed Alex Cappa. They will necessarily have to make the final starting decisions within the next few days. The X-ray results for Hainsey and Leverett are the first pieces of information the Bucs need to guide those choices.