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Evaluating the Buccaneers by position: Competition at center

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We're going through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster, evaluating their needs position by position. Today: center.

Currently on the roster: Joe Hawley, Evan Smith, Josh Allen, Ben Gottschalk

This time last year, it looked like the Bucs would go into the season with Evan Smith as the starting center. He was coming off a mediocre year and a name change, but was still an experienced and reliable player with no one better behind him.

It took one injury and two games for that to change. The Bucs signed Joe Hawley at the start of the 2015 season after the Falcons waived him for cap reasons, and he took over as soon as Smith was injured. The Bucs never turned back to Smith, but they have said they'll have an open competition at center this offseason.

Neither Hawley nor Smith is a particularly great center. In fact, both are very similar. They're both 6'2"-6'3", both weigh 295-305 lbs. and both have multiple seasons of starting experience. Hawley was the better player last year, but he was hardly an impact player. For that reasons, the Bucs could theoretically find a new center -- but that's a ways down the priority list.

Behind Hawley and Smith, the Bucs have a couple of undrafted players who they don't want to actually put out on the field. Neither is likely to make the roster. The Bucs also have Kevin Pamphile and Ali Marpet who could step in at the position.

Whoever loses the starting compensation between Smith and Hawley will likely stick on the roster as a swing backup. Neither player's salary is prohibitive. Hawley has the edge on Smith in this competition, but it's not  a done deal. This should actually be one of the very few positions at which the Bucs will have a genuine competition for a starting spot, so it's worth keeping an eye on.