Last season, for the first time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent three of their five starting offensive lineman to the Pro Bowl. The closest the Buccaneers' offensive line ever got to that level of all-star notoriety before was in 2000, when both center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel went to the Pro Bowl.
Christy and McDaniel, both long-time Vikings who had just signed with the Buccaneers that season, had wonderful NFL careers but were nearing the end, and it's fair to wonder if both were somewhat riding the momentum of previous Pro Bowl selections. Those would be the last all-star appearances for both veterans. Still, Christy would later start every game in 2002 for the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, and McDaniel is now in the Hall of Fame.
All three of the Buccaneers' 2021 O-Line Pro Bowlers – guard Ali Marpet, center Ryan Jensen and tackle Tristan Wirfs – were in the game for the first time. Marpet subsequently rode into earlier retirement but Jensen is just starting another long-term contract in Tampa and Wirfs is only 23 years old. There are likely more Pro Bowls in their futures. In addition, all three of those Bucs who went to Las Vegas for the all-star showcase last season felt that left tackle Donovan Smith was worthy of the same honor. And the team's right guard in 2021, Alex Cappa, put up good enough tape to get a lucrative deal from the AFC Champion Bengals in free agency.
Clearly, the Buccaneers have poured a lot of resources into their offensive line in recent years, and that has definitely paid off over the last couple seasons. Smith was the second pick of the second round in 2014 and he is already on his third contract with the team. Wirfs was the 13th overall selection in 2020 and the Bucs paid an extra fourth-rounder to trade up a spot to get him. Jensen, as mentioned, has now signed two big-money deals in Tampa. The Bucs traded a fifth-rounder to New England for their presumptive Cappa replacement, Shaq Mason, and they have selected Robert Hainsey in the third round and Luke Goedeke in the second round over the past two drafts.
Some of those investments plus a few other players who will be working hard to fit into the offensive line mix in Tampa this year, make up the bulk of the discussion below. We have arrived at the 70-79 range of jersey numbers in our preview of potential 'Camp Goals' for every player on Tampa Bay's 2022 training camp roster, and that group includes both starting tackles, a handful of depth players on the line plus a couple of defensive linemen sprinkled in for variety.
#70 OL Robert Hainsey: When the Bucs nabbed this former Notre Dame standout with the 95th overall pick in 2021, they immediately began touting his versatility. Tampa Bay's starting line was essentially set (there would be a mild competition between Cappa and Aaron Stinnie at right guard), but the thought was that Hainsey could immediately grab an important role as a backup at several different positions. He began training extensively at center, the position at which he was least familiar coming into the NFL. Hainsey was listed as the primary backup to center Ryan Jensen during his rookie season, but he only played 31 offensive snaps and the Bucs probably would have gone with Marpet at the pivot and Stinnie at left guard if there was an issue. Hainsey's versatility earned him a helmet for every single game last year (he didn't see action in all of them but was active each week), so continuing to demonstrate that trait could be one goal for Hainsey. Alternately, he may have his sights set on a more fixed position and more action in his second season. The second-year player has been mentioned as one of the candidates who will be fighting to win the open left guard job.
#71 DL Mike Greene: Greene signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent as the mysterious pipeline of players from James Madison University to the AdventHealth Training Center continues. (Stinnie and Josh Wells are also former Dukes.) He was not signed during the initial wave of undrafted free agents but earned a spot on the camp roster after impressing on a tryout contract during the Bucs' rookie camp. That would seemingly start Greene off at or near the bottom of the depth chart at his position, but the team has already kept him over one of last year's practice squad fixtures, Kobe Smith, who was released in June. The Buccaneers were able to replace the departed Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon with rookie Logan Hall and veteran Akiem Hicks, so there isn't an obvious hole on the regular-season depth chart for a young player to jump into. Still, the team kept three young defensive linemen on the practice squad for most of 2021, so that's obviously a position where they like to cultivate as much depth as possible. Like every player on the roster, Greene is surely coming to camp with the hopes of winning a spot on the 53-man roster, but if an immediate path to that goal is blocked it would still be a very good outcome – and thus a secondary goal – to get a foothold on the practice squad.
#72 T Josh Wells: Wells spent his first four NFL seasons in Jacksonville but was released at the end of the preseason in 2019 and subsequently signed on with the Buccaneers. He has spent the last three years in the same role, as the Bucs reserve 'swing tackle,' always active on game day and ready to step in if either tackle goes down. He's made eight starts in that span, seeing action on both sides of the line. And this spring, for the fourth season in a row, he signed a new one-year deal to play in Tampa. That strongly suggests that the team has a very good comfort level in Wells as that important swing tackle, and that has helped the former undrafted player stay in the league for quite some time. Since the Buccaneers don't anticipate anyone unseating Smith or Wirfs, and nobody is hoping for an injury, Wells likely comes to camp with the goal of fighting off any competitors for the same role he's had the last three years.
#73 G Brandon Walton: Walton went undrafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2020 but has since spent all of his rookie season on the Steelers' practice squad and all of last year on the Bucs' practice squad. Clearly multiple teams have seen potential in Walton, who was an All-Conference USA pick in 2019 after starting every game for the Owls at left tackle. After all, Walton only arrived at Bucs headquarters in the latter half of August last summer, so he did something right to make a quick enough impression to land, and hold onto, a practice squad spot. Walton could be one of those aforementioned competitors who could try to pry the swing tackle job away from Wells. That would certainly be a worthwhile goal for the first-year player heading into his first full camp with the Buccaneers.
#74 OL Fred Johnson: Johnson is another player who could push Wells for the top reserve spot at offensive tackle, and unlike Walton he has starting experience in the NFL. In fact, Walton's eight starts for Cincinnati over the last three years is the exact same number that Wells has made in Tampa in that span. The Bucs have actually had their eye on Johnson for some time; when he was waived by the Steelers after his rookie training camp, they put in a claim for him but the Bengals got him with a higher priority. The Bucs got a second chance to bring Johnson in this spring when Cincinnati let him go shortly after he had received a tender offer to become a restricted free agent. The goal coming into his first Buccaneers camp is surely to crack the 53-man roster, and to do so he may have to unseat Wells or convince the Buccaneers to go a little deeper on the depth chart on the offensive line, with a ninth or 10th spot.
#75 G John Molchon: No player reports to camp with the hopes of getting hurt, so avoiding injury is pretty much a universal goal in training camp. That said, doing so would be a particularly nice outcome for Molchon, who has shown promise from Day One but has started each of his first two NFL seasons on injured reserve. In each case, the Buccaneers initially kept him on the roster through the cutdown to 53 before putting him on IR so that he would be eligible to return to action during the season. And in each case, Molchon did so at midseason but was then transferred to the practice squad. Molchon was off to a good start in his first camp, showing positional versatility and impressive strength, and was a trendy pick to make the 53-man roster, but injury got in the way. The former Boise State star was first mastering the playbook at the time; he should have a much better grasp on it heading into his third camp. Molchon knows it is important to be seen as reliable by the coaching staff on a practice by practice basis.
#76 T Donovan Smith: The application of a 'Pro Bowl snub' label is usually pretty shaky. Even if one is right in believing a certain player has performed at a very high level, to put him on a full Pro Bowl roster remains removing someone else. In a truer sense, there often aren't enough all-star spots to give one to every deserving player. That said, Smith's Pro Bowl teammates from 2021 firmly believed he should have been in Las Vegas with him, and it's fair to say that Smith's league-wide notoriety has rarely matched up with how much the Buccaneers have valued his play. Smith may have had his finest season yet in 2021; according to Pro Football Focus he was responsible for allowing just one sack as he anchored a line that allowed the fewest sacks per pass play. Only Smith knows if getting Pro Bowl an All-Pro recognition is a goal of much importance to him, but he surely is determined to remain a rock on a very good offensive line that is undergoing some changes. Left tackle is one of the most important and highly valued positions on the football field and Smith has been an iron man at that spot for eight seasons already. He'll surely be focused on making it nine in 2022.
#78 T Tristan Wirfs: While Smith may be undervalued around the NFL, the league hasn't taken long at all to notice how good the Buccaneers' 2020 first-round pick is. He not only made the Pro Bowl in just his second season but was one of the two tackles voted first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, which is a significantly more exclusive honor. Wirfs essentially landed on the Buccaneers line as a fully-formed dominant blocker, particularly in terms of pass protection, but there is even more potential to be unlocked in his ridiculous athletic talents. Perhaps Wirfs will be seeking to be just as dominant in the run game as he has been as a pass-blocker. Another potential goal for Wirfs is building chemistry with the Bucs' new right guard, Shaq Mason, after playing his first two seasons alongside Cappa.
#79 DL Patrick O'Connor: O'Connor suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 15 last season but before that he had once again been one of the club's most important and active special teams players. In fact, he was on the field for an incredible 93% of the team's snaps in the kick-and-coverage phase of the game before his injury, up from 77% in 2020 and 60% in 2019. That suggests a couple of potential goals for O'Connor, assuming he is back at full strength to start camp. One could be to regain his enormous role on special teams and perhaps even emerge as a captain on that unit; the Bucs' two special teams captains from 2021, Kevin Minter and Bradley Pinion, have both since departed. That would surely be enough to keep his spot on the 53-man roster safe. However, O'Connor may also be hoping to carve out a bit more of a role on defense, amid a defensive line room that is undergoing some changes in 2022. O'Connor's top offensive snap total in his career was 62 in 2020.