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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tristan Wirfs: Building Muscle Memory 

Entering his fourth NFL season, All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs describes his transition to the blindside protector role

16X9 Wirfs LT OTAs

Change is inevitable for every NFL team during the offseason and Buccaneers' All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs personifies that reality. The two-time Pro Bowl veteran is making the switch from right to left tackle during the 2023 offseason workout program. 

With Donovan Smith's release in March following eight seasons as the protector of the quarterback's blind side, the vacancy needed to be filled. Second-year player Luke Goedeke will revert back to his natural position at right tackle, where he played in college at Central Michigan. Thus, shifting Wirfs to the left side. 

Moving from one side of the offensive line to the other is a challenging endeavor, much more than merely sliding across the formation and switching footwork and hand placement. It is not like flipping a switch. Wirfs now has to untrain and rewire the mind to using his non-dominant hand, as well as restructuring his weight distribution and shuffling off the line to the opposite of what he previously implemented on the field. Imagine being right-handed and suddenly learning to write with your left – not an easy task. 

"Everything is backwards," Wirfs described on the transition. "I am having to get use to throwing with my left hand instead of my right and not throwing with my right and opening up. My weight distribution [is different]. I always use to keep my weight in my left leg and now I want to keep it in my right. It is so similar. You are doing the same stuff but it is all just flipped…I had thousands of reps on the right side and now, I am going in as a newborn baby on the left." 

The muscle memory that has developed over countless reps on the right side and the comfort in the sequence of motion, is now thrown off for Wirfs. He is undergoing the adjustment process of reversing his mechanics and building his resume on the left by changing his vertical set and hand punch to the mirrored version. 

Wirfs has established himself as one of the best tackles in the NFL on the right side and will now look to cement his status on the left. The Iowa product's detailed approach and dedication to technique/fundamentals will play a pivotal role in his acclimation process.  

Wirfs, the 13th-overall selection in the 2020 draft, has started 46 games over the past three seasons for Tampa Bay, anchoring the line. A starter since the first game of his rookie season, Wirfs quickly emerged into one of the most dominant blockers in the league. He allowed the lowest pressure rate in 2022 with a minimum of 500 pass blocking attempts (0.9%) per Pro Football Focus and will vie to continue his productive streak in 2023, manning the left side. 

In addition to his position switch, Wirfs is learning a new offensive scheme under Offensive Coordinator, Dave Canales. The revamped system is expected to have an increase in movement, featuring misdirection, bootlegs, play-action, wide zone and mid-zone runs. In mid-zone, the concept is similar to outside zone with the line flowing laterally to reach defenders by creating seams, but the primary shift is the importance placed on the play-side tackle. In the mid-zone principle, traditionally the play-side tackle is on an island to handle the C-gap down defender and kicks out the edge defender instead of reach blocking. It is an ideal boundary run scheme in the modern NFL with the goal of getting the running back to the open field quicker than other alignments. 

"The mid-zone aspect and what they are wanting to do will benefit us as an offensive line," Wirfs described. "It is a different style of offense and learning it has been a different challenge… [Mid-zone] is very offensive line friendly. So, for a tackle, if a defensive end is outside, the aiming point is coming off your inside leg. It is not too complex." 

Wirfs is embracing the change and gearing up for his fourth NFL season. Although he will line up on the left with a different hand striking first, the goal is the same: Dominance in the trenches.

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