A new league year begins, ushering in change. From free agency departures to re-signings to draft selections, the roster evolves. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win-now approach as Tom Brady returns for his 23rd season in the NFL, the organization is striving to remain atop the NFC hierarchy in 2022. Each position group will be evaluated during the offseason workout program as turnover shifts the depth chart. Next up in the series, let's take a look at the offensive line.
The Buccaneers' juggernaut offense is predicated on the production of the offensive line. The men in the trenches set the tone for the Bucs' onslaught of an aerial attack. They are responsible for protecting the reverse-aging Tom Brady in the pocket and opening up rush lanes for running backs. In recent years, the Bucs' offensive line has been touted as among the best in football. In 2021, Tampa Bay led the NFL in passing yards while allowing the fewest sacks. The esteemed unit will have several new faces in 2022, resulting in a new priority this offseason: continuity.
Ali Marpet, the club's Pro Bowl left guard, retired and right guard Alex Cappa signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency. Both were stabilizing forces on the line that will have to be replaced. Seemingly four starters are penciled in for the start of the season featuring Donovan Smith at left tackle, Ryan Jensen at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Tristan Wirfs at right tackle.
The Buccaneers acquired eighth-year guard Shaq Mason from the Patriots via trade. Tampa Bay got a steal, sending its 2022 fifth-round pick to secure the deal. Mason started 111 of 116 game appearances in his seven seasons with New England. He previously blocked for Brady for five seasons, featuring two that resulted in Super Bowl championships. Mason is a stout anchor in the pass game with a consistent, wide base. He is natural in the run game, with the agility to get up field and push defenders off the line of scrimmage to create seams. His feet start churning as soon as the play starts. Mason will solidify the wall in front of Brady.
During training camp and OTAs, there will be an open competition for the left guard spot between second-round selection Luke Goedeke, veteran Aaron Stinnie and possibly a couple others. On the competition, Offensive Line coach Joe Gilbert described, "I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch in camp to be honest with you. You look [and] you have Stinnie, you have Nick Leverett, you have Robert Hainsey, who is a football junkie. Those guys are going to come out, and what's better than competition. I think that's probably, to me, for us, going to be one of the really fun positions to watch through camp – the development and the competition. That's the one thing we've preached [and] Goodie (Harold Goodwin) has preached in our room – it's open. That spot there every guy has a shot."
Goedeke, the club's pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, was a two-year starter in Central Michigan's zone-blocking scheme. He is a finisher in the run game and possesses great contact balance to stay centered in blocks. Goedeke consistently drove defenders off their spot at the collegiate level and will develop as he gains experience.
"Luke, I think he has all the intangibles when you watch him on tape like all you guys have," Gilbert stated. "You study him and that's why we liked him from that standpoint, and the other thing is I've had the chance to work with him the last couple of days on Zoom calls. His retention and mental part of it is really good, and that, to me, is the hardest thing probably for any college kid coming out anymore is how fast can they pick up the system because of the volume is so much different here at this level than it is at the college level. So far from his retention on the Zoom calls he seems pretty good."
Second-year pro Robert Hainsey provides depth at center and veteran Josh Wells will likely return as the team's swing tackle. Additionally, the Bucs signed Fred Johnson in free agency, who can compete for the swing tackle job and Leverett, Sadarius Hutcherson and John Molchon are viable depth options at guard.
As the Buccaneers gear up for another title run in 2022, the offensive line is the unit to watch.