Bucs’ offensive line must keep Brady clean

by Gary Shelton on February 5, 2021

in general

Smith has had a strong post-season./(Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers via AP)

Thursday, 4 a.m.

The key guy may not be fast. A 40-yard dash? Heck, the most important guy on the field may struggle to get in a good five-yard dash.

The key guy may not be nimble. He will not vault over tacklers, and he will not make any jump cuts.

For the Tampa Bucs -- and, yes, for the Kansas City Chiefs -- the key guy won't have any yardage rushing, or any yards receiving, or any touchdowns scored.

The key guy, after all, might be an offensive lineman.

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When the line has played well, Tampa Bay has won./ (Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers via AP)

I know, I know. I can hear you groan. Offensive linemen are to avoid giving up penalties and to hoist the winning quarterback into the air. After all, no one hears about an offensive lineman until the quarterbacks start giving out watches. Frankly, you'd rather talk about Chris Godwin and Mike Evans streaming toward the end zone, or Tom Brady throwing deep, or Ronald Jones breaking off a nice run.

But keep this in mind. In the games in which Brady has been unruffled, the Bucs have won. That's not hard to figure out, right? Brady was sacked three times or more in a game four times this season, and the Bucs lost three of them. And the running game? The Bucs ran for 100 yards as a team nine times this year; they won eight of the games.

"I think as a group, for us, we feel if we play at a high level, we'll be able to get what we want done," Marpet said Thursday. "We'll be able to put our team in a good position to win. It's also a group, I feel like, that we have each other's back. We love playing with each other. There's an excitement and an enthusiasm around the game so that definitely helps out and it's just fun playing with these guys."

Yeah, there is something to it.

When the Bucs' drafted Tristan Wirfs last off-season, he seemed to help to complete this line. Ali Marpet always has been a battler, and Brady has sung the praises of Ryan Jensen. But the surprise hit of the post-season has been oft-maligned tackle Donovan Smith, who dominated Chase Young in the first round and has played well against the Saints and Packers. He'll have his hands full against Pro Bowler Frank Clark on Sunday.

"People say, 'Hey, you just moved up one spot (in the draft to pick Wirfs,' " Arians said. "Well, you didn't know who else was going to trade up there for him. Jason [Licht] did a great job. We had him ranked the highest guy. He came in and he's been nothing but a dream come true for us – extremely mature young man, great athlete. He just took the bull by the horns and has done a great job blocking just about everybody they put in front of him." 

Smith says the line has found its identity.

"We’ve been playing great. It’s something that we’ve been working on since training camp, obviously. We talk about it every day, anytime we go out on the field, in between those lines we want to establish who we are. At the beginning we were just tying things together, but I feel like we’re in a good groove, a good flow.”

The message is clear. Brady may walk through the door on Sunday, but only if his line can knock it open.

The Bucs and Chiefs start at 6:30 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

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