Though he turned 45 in August, Tom Brady is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes, and he looked as sharp as ever in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2022 training camp. He has the same play-caller in Byron Leftwich and, if anything, an even more loaded receiving corps after Russell Gage and Julio Jones joined forces with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The pieces are certainly in place for the Buccaneers to field the NFL's most prolific passing attack for the second year in a row.
There is however, one part of the offensive structure that looks different in 2022 and, in fact, is a somewhat unproven commodity: the offensive line.
The Buccaneers' O-Line sent three players to the Pro Bowl last year but two of those are currently unavailable following Ali Marpet's retirement and Ryan Jensen's significant knee injury suffered on the second day of camp. With Alex Cappa also departing in free agency, the Buccaneers will be heading into the season with a completely revamped interior line between standout tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs.
Shaq Mason, a March trade acquisition, gives the Bucs a stable replacement for Cappa at right guard but the center and left guard spots will be filled by players who have yet to make a regular-season NFL start. That's second-year man Robert Hainsey on the pivot and Luke Goedeke next to him in Marpet's old spot. Hainsey was a third-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2021 and Goedeke was picked up in the second round this year out of Central Michigan. Both primarily played tackle in college but have found new spots in the NFL. Hainsey is 24, Goedeke is 23. Brady sees an advantage in that youth in how it can drive them to perform at the level the Buccaneers need them to reach.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 1 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
"I think showing up every day and not making the mental errors and taking things to heart when things don't go well for them, not blaming other people for the mistakes, learning from the mistakes, improving and showing everybody that you really care about what you're doing, you care about what we're trying to accomplish, you care about the role that you're in, you care about the fact that your teammates and your coaches put you in a position where they feel like they can trust you," said Brady. "That's what you like about young players, that it means a lot to them, they want to show up and do a great job for everyone."
Brady was sacked just 22 times in 17 games last season as the Buccaneers somehow allowed the fewest overall sacks while throwing the most passes in 2021 and the second most in a single season all-time. That's the standard the new-look line will be trying to live up to so their legendary quarterback can stay as dominant as ever, but Brady says that protection is a two-way street.
"Football is a dangerous sport, if they don't do a great job, they put other people at risk," he said. "If you don't know what you're doing, it could be dangerous for the backs and for the quarterback, and vice versa. No one wants to be hung out to dry. We're all out there together, we're all trying to protect each other. The more that you feel like guys know what to do and care about what they're doing, I think you gain more trust in them."
Because of their lack of experience, especially in contrast to last year's offensive line, it was inevitable that the Bucs' young new starters would be a topic of conversation, and possibly concern, around the team. Brady has reportedly used some outside expressions of that concern to motivate Hainsey and Goedeke. They have responded well, he said on Thursday.
"Good, really good, really good," said Brady. "It's a tough, hard-nosed group. Those guys really take every bit of challenge and use it as motivation. They take things to heart."
Brady joined the Buccaneers in March of 2020 after two unparalleled decades of success in New England. In his first year in red and pewter, the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV. In his second year, the team set a franchise record for wins and tied for the league's best regular-season record at 13-4 before losing to the eventual-champion Rams in the Divisional Round. Overall, the Bucs are 29-10 since Brady's arrival, the best two-season stretch the franchise has ever enjoyed. And Brady feels just as good about this year's team, even with some new contributors in key spots, as he did about the last two.
"I've always been very confident in our team, from the day that I got here," he said. "That hasn't changed at all. We've still got to go do it – it doesn't matter, you've still got to go out there and execute under pressure, which is when the fans are watching and the TV is turned on, you've got to go out there and do a great job."