A week into training camp, the Buccaneers already have an injury to a Pro Bowl offensive lineman who is likely to miss a good portion of the season.
Ryan Jensen went down Thursday morning in a non-contact drill injuring his right leg. Jensen is still going through the process of X-rays and getting a proper diagnosis. Still, all indications are it is a severe injury that will cause Jensen to miss significant time.
This is a harsh blow to a Bucs offensive line already looking to replace two starters in Ali Marpet, who retired, and Alex Cappa, who signed with Cincinnati in the off-season.
When healthy, the Buc’s offensive line has been one of the top five offensive lines in the NFL the last two seasons.
Now the Bucs will have to look for another starting center. They might have a couple of guys on the roster who could step in before looking at available free agents.
Robert Hainsey, the second-year lineman from Notre Dame, played in nine games last season and spent this -off-season working out with Tampa Bay assistant Q.A. Shipley in Arizona. Shipley played center for 12 seasons in the NFL and was impressed with Hainsey. Shipley spoke about Hainsey and his progress this off-season, saying, “He’s gonna be good.”
The other candidate on the roster is Nick Leverett. The Bucs are very high on both players but will give Hainsey the first opportunity to grab the starting job.
Todd Bowles talked about what Hainsey and Leverett would bring to the center position. “Both are very smart, very tough, so better to happen now than in the middle of the season so each guy can get some practice reps and prepare for it, and I think either one of them would be fine.”
J.C. Tretter is a name discussed to fill Jensen’s spot. Tretter is a free agent and is available right now. The Bucs will wait a bit and see how Hainsey does before looking at any available free agents.
The Buc’s offensive line has done an excellent job keeping Brady upright the last two seasons. In 2020 the Bucs allowed Brady to be sacked 21 times, good for fourth best in the NFL.
Last season Brady was sacked 22 times, and that was the best in the NFL.
Like Tristan Wirfs and Donavan Smith, Ryan Jensen played a big role in keeping those numbers down.
Smith has shown the most improvement of any linemen over the last two years. Since he entered the league in 2015, no offensive tackle has been more durable and played more snaps than Donovan Smith.
Smith struggled early in his career. According to PFF, he has improved his rating from 62.5 as a rookie to last season’s 80.5, which was the highest of his career.
There will be a battle for the left guard position. Aaron Stinnie, the veteran and the rookie from Central Michigan Luke Goedecke, will battle it out.
Stinnie has played 18 games in his career and started one game.
Goedecke comes to camp with the reputation of an excellent run blocker. However, he is also a very good pass blocker. In his senior season at Central Michigan, defenders found it hard to penetrate the pocket when lined up against Goedecke.
This battle may come to the end of training camp before we know who will get the starting spot.
At right tackle, The Bucs have one of the best offensive tackles in the game in Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs has been an essential piece of the Buc’s offensive line since the 2020 season and earned his first Pro Bowl nomination last season.
Wirfs will play next to guard Shaq Mason on the right side of the Buc’s offensive line.
Mason was acquired from the New England Patriots during the off-season. Mason played with Brady for the first five seasons of his career, winning two Super Bowls. Now they will get a chance to try to win that third Super Bowl together in Tampa.
PFF graded Mason as the fourth-best guard in the NFL last season. He signed a five-year 45 Million dollar contract in 2019, so he will be with the Buccaneers through 2023.
The Bucs also signed Fred Johnson this off-season to add depth along the line. Johnson, a four-year veteran, has played with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
The other reserves along the offensive line are John Molchon, Josh Wells, Jonathan Hubbard, and Sadarius Hutcherson.
The big question mark right now is the center position. Will Robert Hainsey do enough to hold off Nick Leverett? Or will the Bucs eventually bring in a veteran center like JC Tretter to take over the position till Jensen returns? It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.