There was plenty of excitement in regards to Tampa Bay’s offensive line coming into the 2018 season. The additions of Ryan Jensen, a soon-to-be healthy Demar Dotson, and another small-time school standout in Alex Cappa were key in hopes to elevate the unit’s performance as a whole.
All of a sudden after just a week and a half of training camp, that excitement has been dampened a bit due to injuries at a couple of key spots.
First came backup tackle Leonard Wester, a contributor in 2017 and a player who had already turned a few heads in camp before getting injured on the first Saturday over a week ago. Caleb Benenoch - expected to take over after the Bucs cut J.R. Sweezy - missed another day as he sits out due to an undisclosed injury he suffered in last Friday’s practice.
With the coaching staff being as cautious as ever with Dotson’s return from his knee injury, things currently look pretty grim for the Bucs’ right side of the line and Dirk Koetter knows this.
“I would say it’s injured. I would say it’s injury riddled right now. I don’t think anything on the right side of our O-line is long term,” Koetter said after today’s practice. “We’ve just gotten hit hard at that spot. We’ve got three or four guys that play on the right side of the line that are not practicing right now. That tests your depth, so we have to work through it. They’ll all be back before too long. That helps those other guys get better, but in the mean-time we’ve got to tough it out.”
The good news is that nothing seems to be long term, but for players like Benenoch, every rep is crucial to his development and it could play a key role in the unit’s overall performance during the season.
At least the Bucs have Evan Smith and an ever-developing rookie in Alex Cappa to help ease the pain. Smith rated as the 24th-best guard in 2017 with a good grade of 69.6 according to Pro Football Focus. He has started 56 games during both the regular season and the playoffs, so the experience and ability is there.
Cappa was officially named Benenoch’s backup according to the depth chart the Bucs released today, but keep in mind that can change at any time during the preseason.
But what if either of them go down with an injury? Even worse, what if Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, or Donovan Smith have to miss time?
That would leave Cole Boozer, Brad Seaton - they were actually playing with the ones today due to injuries - Cole Gardner, Jerry Ugokwe, and others as the primary options for the Bucs.
The players just mentioned have a combined three years experience in the league with no starts nor playing time during a NFL season.
That my friends, is a reason to worry. Especially when these injuries could affect the entire offense as Koetter explained, stating that in order to combat the injuries, “we’ll just have to adjust accordingly and we might have to adjust the play calling accordingly.”
So while things may not be so bleak at the mom, the potential for big issues at the position is there. The whole point of training camp and the preseason is to come out of the wash as healthy as possible.
If these injuries are going to happen, it’s best they happen now. I’m willing to bet that the Bucs feel better off knowing what they have now depth-wise as they head into the season, but at the same time an offensive line needs time to gel and right now they aren’t receiving the necessary playing time in order to do that.
Just like the Bucs 2018 season, it’s a juggling act right now on the offensive line - and yet another puzzle for the coaching staff to piece together.