Ryan Jensen is the powerful new presence at the pivot of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line, but he wasn't always a 325-pound mauler with an upward-trending NFL resume. When he got to Colorado State-Pueblo in 2009, he was a 230-pound 18-year-old perhaps not fully aware of what he was about to face. The Wolfpack coaches threw their newcomer directly into the starting lineup and he quickly learned that the only way to avoid being overwhelmed was to fight each play to the bitter end.
"I was an undersized guy going into college, 230 pounds my freshman year of college," said Jensen. "I ended up having to start playing tackle at that weight. The only way I could survive was to play nasty and play physical and play through the whistle. That's definitely where I kind of got [my] style from."
Jensen will face a far easier transition this coming fall when the Buccaneers put him into the lineup at center, a move that will slide budding-star Ali Marpet back to his original guard position and give the team a much more imposing interior line. Tampa Bay beat out a number of other NFL suitors to land Jensen on a lucrative four-year deal after he had put together an outstanding year in his first full season as a starter in Baltimore. He's clearly far more in control of his situation than he was nearly a decade ago in Pueblo. However, Jensen has never lost that every-snap edge he had to develop back then.
View photos of the newest Buccaneer, C Ryan Jensen. Photos by AP Images.
"I've played with a chip on my shoulder my entire career," he said. "You know, [being a] Division II guy, a late-round draft pick, stuff like that, you can't lose that chip on your shoulder. Once you get comfortable, that's when things start to regress.
"You can't forget where you've been. A great player that I talk to said that. I asked him one time, 'Why do you play the way you play?' He [said], 'When you come from where I came from, a bad situation, and you get to where you're at, you never want to go back to that bad situation.' So that's how I see myself reflecting on my earlier career."
Jensen wasn't drafted until late in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, although that did make him the first CSU-Pueblo product selected in nearly two decades. He had to spend most of his rookie season on Baltimore's practice squad before a mid-December promotion brought him up to the active roster for good. He had stretches as a starter in his second and third seasons when other Ravens were injured, but he won a full-time job just this past season. It was well worth the wait, as Jensen helped hold together a Baltimore line hit by injuries and became known for his hard-nosed and aggressive style of play. He was a coveted player on the unrestricted free agent market, as quality interior linemen have gained significantly in perceived value in recent years thanks to the growing number of dangerous up-the-middle pass-rushers in the league.
Now he joins a Buccaneer team that is intent on producing a much better ground game than it has the past two years. That may involve changes to the backfield, from which Doug Martin has moved on, but it starts up front. And Jensen wants to be the one leading the charge.
"I see myself as a tone-setter up front and that's the way I play the game," he said. "Some people say I play the game like they did back in the '80s and I take that as a compliment."
Jensen set the tone for his own NFL career when, on the first day of his first NFL training camp, he got into a fight with the Ravens' alpha defensive tackle, Haloti Ngata. It wasn't necessarily a coincidence that he went after "the biggest and baddest guy on the team," as he put it. The Buccaneers aren't looking for a practice-field instigator, of course, but they certainly won't mind a little nastiness in the trenches when the games begin. Jensen can willingly provide that; he's been doing it since he was 18 years old.