When it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line, and the possible lineup combinations that can fill up the first column on the depth chart, Head Coach Dirk Koetter has always said the same thing: We want to get the best five players on the field.
Since his arrival as a second-round draft pick in 2015, that has always included Ali Marpet…just not always in the same place. An offensive tackle at Division III Hobart, Marpet played his first two NFL seasons at right guard before sliding over to center in 2017. However, that latter job now goes to Ryan Jensen, one of the team's most significant additions in free agency, and that is putting Marpet on the move again.
Rather than return to right guard, Marpet will not take over at left guard, a position predominantly handled the past two years by Kevin Pamphile, who is now with the Tennessee Titans. Koetter first mentioned Marpet's new position at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando in March, and Marpet began his latest transition on Monday, when the team's nine-week offseason program began.
Phase One of the offseason program allows only for conditioning work when the players are on the field, so Marpet isn't yet taking any snaps at any spot on the line. However, there is also some time in the day for classroom work, so Marpet can at least start focusing mentally on the demands of his new assignment.
"Playing in the NFL is hard, so it's a new position, it's always a new challenge," he said. "I kind of just look forward to it actually. If it helps our team, then I am all for it and I think it helps our team."
Marpet's move from guard to center a year ago was a fairly demanding transition, though he had made a more difficult one in the leap from Hobart to the NFL. The mental demands of playing center and essentially serving as the quarterback of the O-Line are significantly different from what is required at the guard position. Now he's moving to a position he already knows well, or at least the mirror version of it.
"It's just getting reps at it," said Marpet. "It's going to take time. I think I'll get all those reps during training camp and I'm going to work on it now during the offseason. Moving from right to left is less of a transition than guard to center, so I think I can do that."
Right tackle still belongs to Demar Dotson, though the talented veteran won't be on the field until training camp after recently undergoing knee surgery. The right guard spot is a bit uncertain given that the incumbent, J.R. Sweezy, has also not yet been cleared to play after finishing last year on injured reserve. However, Marpet will be slotting in between two well-established starters in Jensen and left tackle Donovan Smith, and he thinks that will help him hit the ground running at left guard.
"It's really exciting," he said. "Obviously, I did two years at right guard, so I feel pretty comfortable playing guard, just switching over to left side is going to be new. But, it is going to be a lot easier when you're playing next to good players, so playing next to Donovan and playing next to Ryan is going to help out."
Marpet was considered a rising star after his second year at right guard, and he progressed well during his season at center, to the point that the Buccaneers would feel completely comfortable putting him back in that spot if the need arose. Hopefully, it won't. Jensen got a big contract from the Bucs after a dominant first season as a starter in Baltimore, and the team was particularly enamored of his hard-nosed style of play. The word "nasty" has been tossed around, and in a complimentary way. Marpet thinks the addition of Jensen – his talent and his attitude – could take the Bucs' O-Line play to a higher level.
"I think he will fit great," said Marpet of his new line-mate. "I think that is why we brought him in. He is the kind of guy that helps our mentality as an offensive line and we are all excited about that. [A "nasty" attitude] is important for anyone who plays football, but especially on the offensive line and the more you can have it, I think the better we will be as a team. I think it is going to help us out."
Marpet continues to help the Buccaneers out by taking on whatever position will allow them to get their five best linemen on the field at the same time. In 2018, that position appears to be left guard. Making that move is a new challenge for Marpet, but he's certainly not new to meeting challenges.