The game of musical chairs is afoot, as is customary in the NFL with injuries. On Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed guard Aaron Stinnie on injured reserve, ending his 2022 season prematurely. He will not suit up this season after sustaining injuries to both the ACL and MCL in his left knee during Saturday's preseason game in Tennessee.
Stinnie was part of the competition to replace retired Pro Bowler Ali Marpet at left guard. He was the most experienced of the candidates and had primarily taken reps with the first-team throughout OTAs/training camp. The battle is now between second-year pro Nick Leverett and the Buccaneers' second-round selection, Luke Goedeke. For Goedeke, a rare opportunity awaits.
During practice on Monday at the AdventHealth Training Center, Goedeke took first-team reps within the offense as he vies to cement a starting gig. No. 67 stayed after practice to work on footwork and hand placement off the line of scrimmage with Vice President of Player Engagement Duke Preston. Although Goedeke is a natural fit at guard with his power and center of gravity, he exclusively played right tackle at Central Michigan to fill a vacancy. At the pro level, Goedeke undergoes the task of adapting his play to the left side of the formation. In pass sets, his primary focus has become transitioning both hand placement and coordination.
"In pass protection, just coordinating for everything to be opposite," Goedeke said. "To put it into perspective, it would be like someone throwing a football with their non-dominant hand. That is what it feels like. It just comes with repetition and trying to get better every day."
The adjustment takes time. After previously shooting first with his right hand, Goedeke now shifts to using his left. Every motion is the mirror opposite and, additionally, counter moves to neutralize a bull rush must be altered. Goedeke has experience playing in multiple schemes during his collegiate career including zone, duo play and pin and pull, along with gap. As Goedeke physically goes through the conversion from right tackle to left guard, he has prioritized his mental preparation. Every chance Goedeke can get, he absorbs film to train the mind – even as he sits in the dining area at the facility during meals.
"I try to indulge myself with as much football as possible," Goedeke stated. "It's different than during college. During college I had school but now I can focus fully on football. Right after practice, I watch film. I see what I did wrong, how I can get better and what I did good."
Goedeke is the likely internal answer for the vacancy at left guard. He was drafted to become the future, long-term plan at the position. Now he must earn the coaches trust to be the Week One starter protecting Tom Brady in the pocket. As Goedeke continues to develop, his confidence will rise, optimizing growth in the trenches. Without established depth at the position, Goedeke has the chance of a lifetime to lock up a starting role for the Buccaneers' O-Line. Tampa Bay could bring in an external veteran to plug in and play, but the in-house audition is underway for Goedeke.
"We have some depth right now, but we are always looking to bring in somebody that can help the team," Head Coach Todd Bowles said. "So, if there is something out there that is available to us that we can get, then we'll try to take a shot at it… It's not about experience, it's about experience playing. Luke [Goedeke] and Nick [Leverett] do a great job right now. They're getting a lot of reps, so they've earned that right to compete for that spot … We don't mind playing rookies – we've been playing rookies since we've been here. It's just a matter of them getting in-game experience. We're comfortable with the guys we have right now, but if we can find an option that's out there that fits us, we will look at it."