The 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers famously 'kept the band together' after the team had won Super Bowl LV at the end of the previous season. Thanks to some go-for-it style of salary cap maneuvering and the magnetic draw of Tom Brady, the Buccaneers were able to stave off a number of potential free agency defections and were the first champions since the 1970s to return all 22 of their starters.
The results, on offense in particular, were predictable and welcome. The Buccaneers went from third in the league in scoring in 2020 to second last year, from seventh to second in total yards and from second to first in passing yards. They had to change their style of attack a little bit thanks to league-wide defensive adjustments, but Brady made it work better than ever.
As the Buccaneers wade into the second week of training camp in 2022 and prepare for another run at a title, they are dealing with a far more typical situation when it comes to season-to-season change. The team is definitely not returning all 22 starters, and the offense will have a half-dozen or more new contributors. That change started early in the offseason, when Pro Bowl left guard Ali Marpet surprisingly retired and starting right guard Alex Cappa left for Cincinnati on the first day of free agency.
And now the changes to the Bucs' starting line continue, on a far less happy note. Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered a significant knee injury in the second practice of camp and will be out until at least November, if not longer. Trade acquisition Shaq Mason is slotted in at right guard and the left guard battle seems to be primarily between Aaron Stinnie and Luke Goedeke. Now the Bucs add another competition at center, with second-year man Robert Hainsey at the front of the line. Hainsey took the first-team snaps on Monday; after that practice, Brady met with the media for the first time in this camp.
Brady obviously had a well-established comfort level with Jensen but will now be working with Hainsey (and potentially others) by necessity. He expects the young player to work hard to meet the challenge.
"He's worked really hard," said Brady of Hainsey. "Obviously, everyone's heartbroken with what happened Ryan. So, that'll take a little time, but 'Haines' has to step into the job and do a great job. He's worked hard last year, really gained a lot of trust with a lot of people and he has to go earn it. Like all of us, it's not what you did, how hard you worked in the offseason, it's how good of a football player are you. It's to be determined for all of us."
Meanwhile, tight end Rob Gronkowski has retired and the Buccaneers have added veteran Kyle Rudolph and two 2022 draft picks, Cade Otton and Ko Kieft, to the position. There's more continuity at receiver with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (when he makes his return from injury), Scotty Miller, Cyril Grayson, Tyler Johnson and Breshad Perriman. But there are new faces there, too, primarily former Falcons Russell Gage and Julio Jones. It's a loaded spot on the depth chart, but there is still some work to be done to figure out how all the pieces fit.
"They're all working hard," said Brady of the Bucs' receivers. "Obviously, we got a lot of really great professionals that have great work ethics and know how to play the game. Those guys are coming out to work every day, so its tough conditions out here, not a lot of wind and its just pretty hot and you have to gear up every day for it."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
What Brady would want the most from any player trying to carve out a new role in the offense in 2022 is consistency from day to day and continual forward progress.
"I think just steady improvement," he said. "Just getting better every day. It's hard if you take one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, two steps back. You start at a lower point, but if you make progress every day you get to a good place.
"We're just going to do the best we can do. There's a lot of work between now -- it's August first. There's a lot of time. Nobody knows what the team is going to look like – you think you have a center and then he gets injured, so the team is different in one day. There's a long time between now and the first game."