Center Ryan Jensen will be anchoring a Buccaneers' offensive line that will look quite different from its 2017 counterpart this season – at least on the interior.
You'll recall that Ali Marpet had played a majority of 2017 at the center position, moving from guard before the season started. He was sidelined with an injury during the latter part of the year. In fact, the Bucs ended up having to start three different players at the position throughout the course of the season, in addition to shuffling around guards and tackles, as a result.
The center position especially is one of importance, as many centers are responsible for diagnosing or 'IDing' the defense: who's the MIKE; where's the SAM; where's the WILL, etc. They work in conjunction with the quarterback to determine the necessary pass protection and whether or not the play the quarterback called in the huddle will end up being successful based on what the defense is showing. Then there's the whole timing thing. Snapping the ball, regardless of if the quarterback is under center or in the shotgun, isn't as easy or fluid as most make it look.
While quarterback Jameis Winston will be behind his third starting center in as many years, Jensen has years of experience with one of the league's most prominent quarterbacks in Baltimore (yeah, I said it). He and Winston are now getting a feel for each other and learning that center-quarterback cohesion that can make or break an offense.
"It's been great," Jensen said of working with Winston. "It's been a little bit different. Jameis takes a little more control of things, MIKE points, etc., where I was used to doing everything. Getting that chemistry with Jameis is really starting to come along. He plays off me and I'm starting to play off him and it's been good, we've been getting that chemistry down."
It's a give and take that both players will have to get used to. Undoubtedly, Winston was used to taking on more responsibility, having a first-year center in Marpet during the 2017 season. Not to say Marpet didn't excel at the position (because honestly, what doesn't the kid excel at? And yes, I'm including the ukulele in that), but there's a difference between being the interior protection guy and being the interior protection guy that ALSO has to know everything the defense is doing. Jensen has that part down, but the adjustment will come in how he and Winston communicate.
"That will come with time. When we sit down and start game planning and stuff like that, when I can see stuff, I'll take care of it for him and if I don't see something, he can take care of it for me. It's one of those things that will be a work in progress, especially when we start game planning, it'll become a more apt thing."
It isn't just his relationship with the quarterback Jensen needs to adjust to. The offensive line is one of the most cohesive units in football. Each piece needs to work together with oft-overlooked precision to be successful.
"With everything, it takes a little bit of time but going into our sixth OTA today, we're starting to mesh better," Jensen said of the offensive line as a whole. "Communication is big and the way we communicate with each other. Having a couple new pieces in there, it makes a little tough but we're getting there."
Fortunately, the talent of the offensive line on the field is matched by their personalities off of it. You have Ali Marpet who grew up with a dad that films fashion shows, a mom that was in a rock band and who's life goal is to open up a sandwich shop. You have Donovan Smith who looks just as comfortable in bowling shoes as he does in cleats (I've seen him bowl over a 250). And now you bring in rookie Alex Cappa with his long-flowing blonde hair reminiscent of Thor's and that same 'nasty' attitude Jensen has been praised for. All the makings of some beautiful friendships, if you ask me.
"The chemistry and personalities, stuff like that, we're all a younger group and we can relate with each other really well," Jensen said. "We hang out outside of football and stuff like that so the chemistry is very big on the offensive line and we're really starting to click."
One of those hangouts coming up is an offensive line BBQ, where Jensen will be bringing his famous brisket. Barbequing is something of a hobby for Jensen and one that should make him an instant favorite among his teammates. But more than what his teammates think, his coach also seems to notice that Jensen's transition to his new team has been pretty seamless as well.
"Ryan has fit right in, number one," Head Coach Dirk Koetter said. "He's fit right in with our guys. You can tell that he's a gritty player and that's something that we were looking for in our guys that we added. Because he's got experience, he's a smart player even though he's adjusting from the Ravens' system to our system. He's really picked things up quickly and you can just tell that he's going to make us – with him and Ali inside – and whoever ends up at right guard, is going to make us pretty solid inside."
"When they brought me in, that [grittiness and nasty attitude] was one thing they wanted me to do was kind of push that a little bit more," Jensen said. "Granted, we're in OTAs right now but I can tell guys' mentalities are starting to get more of that 'vinegary'-type attitude. It's going to change and it's going to be good."
Wonder if vinegar is part of his BBQ sauce, too?