Imagine for a moment that you’re an NFL player. Not a starter, but a hard working back-up. You battle every day to prove you can be an every down player but just can’t quite crack the starting lineup.
Then imagine your number is called to start one day. Not just any day, but in the divisional round of the playoffs and you’d be facing a division rival that beat you twice that season and have one of the best defensive fronts in all of football.
Welcome to the life of Aaron Stinnie.
Stinnie has been in the league for four years, playing his first two in Nashville with the Tennessee Titans then heading to Tampa Bay last season. In those four years, Stinnie appeared in twelve games and had zero starts. When Alex Cappa went down against the Washington Football Team, it was Stinnie that Bruce Arians relied upon to fill the void against the Saints the following week.
And honestly - the line has looked as good as ever the last two games.
I asked center Ryan Jensen about the transition from Cappa to Stinnie and about how big he’s been for the team during this playoff run;
“Yeah, it’s a testament to Aaron being ready for that situation, being ready for that pressure. His first career start was in a divisional round playoff game against New Orleans. I mean - that’s one of the best fronts in football - and he went in there and had a heck of a game for his first career start.
That just goes to the preparation of the entire group, from coaches to players. Being able to have pretty much a seamless transition is a true testament to Stinnie’s work and the work of the offensive line.”
The offensive line that so many were concerned with ahead of the season, being able to protect Tom Brady, has been one of the better lines in the NFL in 2020 - and that was when they’ve seen nearly every starter either miss time with injury or shift position due to injury. Their preparation, their dedication to one another and doing what they can to help the men on either side of them is a big, overlooked reason as to why the Buccaneers are playing in Super Bowl LV.