Bucs line is key to offense clicking

by Gary Shelton on August 16, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Offensive tackle Demar Dotson signed a contract extension

Offensive tackle Demar Dotson signed a contract extension

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

It isn't the sexiest part of the football team. Just one of the most important.

They don't catch passes. They don't score touchdowns. They don't smile as they sell pizza. They don't get the girl or kick field goals or show up on most of your highlights. No one watches one of them ram his head into a 340-pound defensive tackle and says “I want to be one of them!”

They are the offensive linemen.

And they allow everyone else to stand up.

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Pamphile has moved around on the offensive line.

Pamphile has moved around on the offensive line.

Let's be honest. Most people would rather read Chaucer than read about offensive linemen. You may be one of them. You think offensive linemen should be seen and not heard, especially on plays involving holding. If a lineman wants to celebrate with a back as they celebrate a touchdown, fine. Except for that, keep trouble off of the quarterback, and fans will like them just fine.

Still, it's an open discussion. How good is the offensive line of the Bucs? Pro Football Focus says they're 27th in the league. SB Nation says they're fourth. Most of us would say they're between 14th and 18th in the NFL.

Oh, they were good enough that Doug Martin finished second in the league in rushing and Jameis Winston threw for 4,000 yards. They were one of five teams in the league to gain 6,000 yards. They were tied for fourth for fewest sacks.

But no one seems quite convinced. Winston still was hit a lot, and Martin had games where he wasn't a factor. Tackle Donovan Smith is a frequent target of critics. Free agent signing J.R. Sweezy is out for five weeks. A lot of analysts say that it was Winston, hard to bring down, who was responsible for the sack numbers and that he took far too many hits.

In other words, the offensive line has to prove itself all over again.

Smith has never convinced others that he's a quality player. Now there are questions about Kevin Pamphile, who wasn't counted on to start but now finds himself a key player.

“We can be good,” said center Joe Hawley. “We can be as good as we want to be.”

“To me, we have an incredibly smart offensive line,” said guard Ali Marpet. “That's going to help us.”

Yeah, you tell Marpet. But if you took the five toughest kids in math class, they still wouldn't make much of an offensive line.

Marpet laughs. “You've got to be tough and smart and have physical ability. We have all of that.”

How good will this line be? Well, Monday helped, when the team re-signed tackle Demar Dotson, who has aspirations to be the best right tackle in the league, to a three-year extension.

“Individually, (the goal) for me is to go out there and be the best right tackle I can be," Dotson said. I believe that I can be the best right tackle in this game, and I think collectively as a unit we just [have] to buy into what [Offensive Line Coach] George [Warhop] is teaching us and go out there and put it on the field. I think that, as a coach, in Warhop, we’ve got a guy with so much great experience and he’s a great teacher of this game. So I think that [if] we buy in and do what he tells us to do, I think as a collective unit we can be better.

Marpet admits the Bucs weren't at their best against the Eagles last week when the team rushed 21 times for 31 yards. “I think we can play so much better. I don’t know why we didn’t perform how we could, but we just didn’t. We didn’t have that energy, we didn’t have those details, we didn’t have all that; it didn’t click for us.”

Consider Monday's practice, where Kevin Pamphile was playing left tackle (Smith was hurt) and Evan Smith was playing left guard. That's 40 percent of the line out of whack.

This weekend's game against Jacksonville will provide some clues. The Jags were 24th in the NFL on defense last year, even though Dante Fowler has been impressive so far. Still, Jacksonville might provide a clue as to how much work the Bucs' offensive line needs.

Look, Winston is impressive...but only if someone keeps the blitzers out of his lap.

Martin is impressive. But only if he has a crease to run through.

Mike Evans is impressive. But only if he has time to get into his pattern.

The offensive line can make it all click. Or they can allow the offense to be shut down.

Look, 27th is a silly stat. But it's easy to agree that the line needs to be better.

This week would be a good time to start.

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