The 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers famously returned all 22 of its starters, plus virtually every regular reserve, from the roster that won Super Bowl LV at the end of the previous season. That was something the league hadn't seen since the 1970s, well before the arrival of free agency. Those 2021 Buccaneers did have some free agency issues to confront, but General Manager Jason Licht and company pulled out all the stops to "keep the band together."
That 2021 team set a franchise regular-season record with 13 wins, won the NFC South for the first time in 13 years and made it to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before being narrowly bounced by its eventual successor as Super Bowl champs, the Rams. Clearly, that was a very talented roster that, once again, the Buccaneers were hoping to keep as intact as possible. And they did a good job in that regard! Most of the core remains of a team that is expected to be a prime title contender again, mostly thanks to Tom Brady's decision not to retire. Still, this time there were the inevitable losses here and there on the depth chart.
Perhaps most notably, the Buccaneers will head into the 2022 with a new pair of starting offensive guards. Considering that three-fifths of the team's offensive line went to the Pro Bowl last year, that's a unit the Buccaneers very much would have liked to keep intact. But one of those Pro Bowlers, left guard Ali Marpet, chose to retire and right guard Alex Cappa got a well-deserved big deal in free agency from the Bengals. The Buccaneers already have quite a bit of dollars and cap space invested in their offensive line, so it was not particularly surprising that they weren't able to retain Cappa's services.
Fortunately, the Buccaneers have clear plans in place to fill those spots and maintain one of the most effective offensive fronts in the NFL. And those plans are going to be a major part of the discussion today as we look at the nine players on Tampa Bay's 90-man training camp roster who wear jerseys in the 60s. (That's the maximum number for this set of 10 because Lee Roy Selmon's #63 jersey has been officially retired 1986.)
This is the seventh installment in our 'Camp Goals' series, wherein we are going down the entire roster of players who will report for Tampa Bay's 2022 training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center next week. For each player, we look at his situation as camp begins and take a guess at what his specific goals for the next six weeks will be. In this set, it's nothing but wall-to-wall big men.
#60 G Nick Leverett: For starters, Leverett could set as his primary goal to make as big of a splash in this camp as he did last summer. A 2020 undrafted free agent out of Rice, Leverett made the Bucs' practice squad as a rookie and spent most of the season on that unit but never quite got the call up to the next level. However, he was so impressive in his second camp that he earned a spot on the 53-man roster and saw action in two games. Leverett's gradual rise up the ranks is not an unusual path for an undrafted player, but he made it clear during his breakout camp a year ago that he has very high expectations for his career. As we'll be discussing shortly, Aaron Stinnie and rookie Luke Goedeke are considered the two primary competitors for the open left guard spot, but coaches have also mentioned Leverett and Robert Hainsey in that discussion, so Leverett can set a more specific goal if winning a starting spot for the first time in his NFL career.
#61 G Sadarius Hutcherson: A year ago, Hutcherson was among a group of young linemen essentially fighting for the ninth and final spot on the offensive line depth chart. That he was seeing action with the second-team line was a good sign for the undrafted rookie out of South Carolina. Unfortunately, a torn ACL suffered in the preseason opener halted Hutcherson's momentum and put him on injured reserve for the entire season. During offseason OTAs and minicamp practices, the second-year lineman was mostly working on completing his recovery. For any player returning to action from an ACL tear, the first goal is to reestablish his own confidence in that leg. Hutcherson will be looking to do so in camp, and to demonstrate to the coaching staff that he is at least back to the level of play they saw him briefly exhibit in 2021. At that point, Hutcherson will once again try to earn a reserve spot on the line and, if things go well enough, throw his hat into the ring at left guard, too.
#62 G Curtis Blackwell: Blackwell played tackle at Ball State but may be asked to move inside with the Buccaneers. Either way, one worthwhile goal for any undrafted rookie heading into camp is demonstrate a useful positional versatility. In fact, that was a big factor in how impressive Leverett was a year ago. Blackwell could look to follow in the same path. Training camp will also be the perfect opportunity for Blackwell and the other young linemen to hone their technique under the excellent tutelage of the Bucs' coaching staff. With three reserves from last year's line (Leverett, Hainsey and Josh Wells) returning and Goedeke now in the mix, the final couple spots on the line will be very competitive, but if Blackwell can't break through that group he could show enough to get an extended look on the practice squad and perhaps follow in a Leverett-like path.
#64 G Aaron Stinnie: The goal for Stinnie is clear: Win the starting left guard spot vacated by Marpet. His primary competition is Goedeke, the team's second-round pick this year, and it's likely that the Buccaneers see the rookie at the very least as an eventual starter somewhere on their line. Stinnie's advantage in this competition is his experience on the Buccaneers' line, primarily his impressive stint as a starter at right guard during the 2020 postseason, when he filled in for an injured Cappa. That strong showing on the way to a Super Bowl championship earned Stinnie a right to compete with Cappa for the starting spot last summer, but the incumbent was able to hold onto the job. Now Stinnie is the closest thing to an incumbent the Bucs have at that open starting spot and he has a chance to open a season in a primary role for the first time in his NFL career.
#65 T Dylan Cook: Another undrafted rookie, the 6-6, 305-pound Cook is likely to stick at the tackle spot, where he played his last two seasons at Montana after converting from quarterback. His situation is much like Blackwell's – both have a crowded group of at least somewhat more experienced players in front of them. However, several of those players – such as Stinnie, Leverett, Wells and Fred Johnson – all started out as undrafted free agents as well. Cook and Blackwell have an opportunity to learn not only from veterans like Jensen and Smith and a strong coaching staff, but also from players who can show them how they succeeded from a similar situation. In terms of honing his game, Cook will likely be focused on improving his work in pass protection.
#66 C Ryan Jensen: After one full season as the starting center in Baltimore, Jensen inked a lucrative free agency deal with Tampa Bay in 2018. The Buccaneers had been impressed enough by that one season of tape to believe Jensen was already one of the league's better centers and would continue to improve, and that is exactly what happened over the life of that four-year deal. Jensen's steady upward trajectory culminated in his first Pro Bowl after last season, and then another big contract to stay in Tampa, and now by some estimation he is the top center in the league. Jensen is also the tone-setter for the Buccaneers' offensive line with his aggressive to-the-whistle style of play; he will be key to the Bucs' new-look interior line jelling as quickly as possible. Jensen doesn't have much left to prove in his 10th NFL camp but one possible goal would be to work on building chemistry with the two new men lining up on either side of him.
#67 G Luke Goedeke: As noted, Goedeke is likely to be Stinnie's primary competition for the starting left guard spot, but in his case that involves a subordinate goal for his first NFL training camp: Learning the position. Goedeke was a standout right tackle at Central Michigan last year but the Buccaneers drafted him 57th overall with the intention of moving him to a guard spot. He has actually been working on that transition since the postseason all-star games that led up to the draft, and he's specifically had work with the Buccaneers' coaching staff in rookie camp, OTAs and minicamp. Still, there is work to be done to continue that move, and the faster he feels completely comfortable in that spot the more effectively he'll be able to compete for a starting job.
#68 T Jonathan Hubbard: The first-year tackle will be looking to take advantage of a full training camp with the Buccaneers for the first time after he arrived in late August last year while the team was dealing with a rash of injuries to the offensive line. That was enough time for Hubbard to earn a spot on the practice squad, which he held for the first month of the season before being released. A string of tryouts with other teams followed but he eventually returned to the Buccaneers on a reserve/future job in late January. One useful goal for a young player seeking a reserve role on the team's offensive line would be to demonstrate versatility, in Hubbard's case showing that he can play both right and left tackle. With Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs locked in as the starting tackles, any reserves would probably need to qualify as a "swing tackle." That's the role that Josh Wells has filled the last three seasons (and would be the favorite to fill again in 2022), and it would be a good next step for a player trying to get his foot in the NFL door.
#69 G Shaq Mason: The Bucs' ability to effectively replace both starting offensive guards in the same offseason got a significant boost on March 24 when they were able to acquire Mason from the Patriots in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round draft pick. Mason is a seasoned right guard who has consistently ranked among the best at his position over the past seven seasons. Even better, he arrives with a built-in relationship with the man he'll be protecting on Sundays, having spent his first five seasons blocking for Tom Brady in New England. Mason will use training camp to get in step with Wirfs at right tackle and Jensen at center and to make sure he's fully schooled on the terminology in the Buccaneers' playbook.