It had to happen at some point; The Bucs were down to the 5th string running back (hint: there is no such thing), 4th and 5th Wide Receiver, playing defensive linemen that some witnesses swear came out of an AbleBody Labor truck. The one area the Bucs were NOT feeling the crunch was at Quarterback and Offensive Line; with the 5 starters across the O line the same for all 8 games up until last week.
Perhaps its because the O Line was the first area Lovie Smith and Jason Licht saw to dismantling, as to why its the first real area that has depth on the Buccaneers. After jettisoning several starting Offensive Linemen, some popular and still able to play, the free agents planned to replace them did not work out. As a result, O Line coach George Warhop took a beating, by myself included! He hadn’t shown anywhere in his history an ability to forge a dominant Offensive Line. But a couple key moves were made that set the stage for the 2016 line, maybe one of the franchises deepest.
- Bucs drafted T Kevin Pamphile in the 5th round
- Bucs traded for ProBowl Guard Logan Mankins
Neither move had a visibly positive effect that year; Mankins was too busy covering for Left Tackle and Center, and Mankins was too busy failing at Left Tackle and Center. But Pamphile stuck around, and his talent was noticed. Warhop continued his training and Pamphile’s versatility was his asset. But more important was the drafting of Rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, both of whom got to play a full season on opposite sides of Mankins, who schooled Marpet on the art of being a Pro Football Player and a Guard. Mankins came to the Bucs late in 2014 and felt the need in 2015 to make up for his deficiencies. He showed up to camp with 6 pack abs for the first time in his career, and it shocked the Bucs coaches and players. 2015 was the learning year for Smith and Marpet, and Mankins was the teacher for those students.
FAST FORWARD to 2016 Week 7 and the Bucs play a full 5 quarter game (ok minus one minute?!), then have to play again 4 days later. Victims of this scheduling disaster, brought to you by the League of Player Safety, include Center Joe Hawley (Knee) and Kevin Pamphile with a concussion. Evan Smith, the center formerly known as Dietrich stepped in as usual but then he went down 6 plays into the game with his best Hawley impersonation: Knee Injury Part Du. Bring out Well known, easilly recognizable names like G Caleb Benenoch and C Ben Gottschalk. The latter preformed admirably, so the Bucs now have 3 deep at Center! Guard Nenenoch, a rookie, not so much: of course its to be expected. Your going against the Chicago Bears, not the USC Trojans! Benenoch was a Bruin this time last year, and technically was a Bruin this time 5 months ago!
Due to archaic NCAA regulations, Caleb was prevented from participating in OTAs because of the NFL Graduation Rule. It prohibits NFL Players from joining their NFL teams until the semesters at their schools end. Oh sure they can come for a weekend and participate in Rookie Mini Camp, but thats it! NO NFL FOR YOU until gowns are off and caps tossed in air! Its actually a good rule at heart, forcing kids to graduate and not forfeit their final semester of school. For most schools grads, this is no problem, but places like Washington and, you guessed it, UCLA, have 3x 10week class semesters, so they dont finish until middle of June. Thats ten practice dates players can miss, time to address this rare law.
Shockingly however, the rookie wasn’t the only one who struggled against the Bears Sunday, as Veteran RT Demar Dotson is not so quietly having one of his worst seasons on the dawn of a new large multi million dollar contract. Don’t get me wrong, Dotson deserved that big new contract, in part because he was taken advantage of by his own agent and the Bucs then GM. But Dotson had his worst day as a pro, getting schooled by Bears like BooBoo and the Park Ranger. Dotson must improve if the Bucs are to move forward.
And if Free Agent J.R. Sweezy returns to form next season, look out the Bucs will have one of the deepest Offensive Lines in their history. Koetter and Warhop see a lot in Caleb, so he will have other chances to learn from his mistakes. In the meantime, George Warhop deserves credit for putting together a group of O Linemen who are growing tight, learning as they go, and making waves in the NFL with team Depth the Bucs dont seem to have anywhere else on the roster!
NOTES: With Mankins showing the Bucs Oline youngsters how to be a pro, the offense recorded one of the best statistical season in Bucs history, re-writing the Bucs record books for Doug Martin and his rushing yardage (3rd behind his own 2nd place (2012) and James Wilder’s 1st in 1984), yards passing (2nd behind Josh Freeman’s 2012 season), Pass Attempts, Completions, Touchdowns under Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans yardage receiving.
As a team the Bucs moved the ball for the most amount of yards ever in Tampa Bay’s 40 season history, breaking the 6000 yard barrier, as well as placing high in 3rd best 3rd down efficiency, 1st in avg gain per play, 2nd in most yards rushing (2nd w/2162, short of 2437 by 1979 Bucs ) and total first downs (2nd; 336pts to 344 in 1984).
Source: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2016 Media Guide