Pro Bowl impressed with Bucs’ line

by Gary Shelton on December 24, 2021

in general

Marpet among Pro Bowl Bucs./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

Perhaps this is the worst possible time to ask. But how good is the offensive line of the Tampa Bay Bucs?

Again, it's a difficult question to pose in the aftermath of a shutout loss to the New Orleans Saints, a loss where the line looked as bad as it has all season long. The line allowed four sacks, and although two long runs padded the rushing totals, the Saints controlled the line all night.

Then came this week, when three Bucs' offensive linemen -- Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs -- all made the Pro Bowl. Guard Alex Kappa was an alternate, and some of the writers thought the worst snubs in the league included Donovan Smith.

Content beyond this point is for members only.

Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the blog (it's at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!

Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on

So is this line a closed fist, or does it still need to be better?

Depending on when you're asking, maybe it's both?

" I think it’s really cool," offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said Thursday. "I think ‘Cap’ (Alex Cappa) was an alternate. I think ‘Donnie’ (Donovan Smith) should be on there somewhere also. It says a lot about the group. It says a lot about the consistency of the group. It says a lot about what people think of the group. When your peers get you in Pro Bowls and stuff like that, it means a lot because it’s really the league saying what they think about you and that’s good that we have guys that are capable and eligible to be a part of the Pro Bowl.”

For the Bucs, it's different. They've often struggled across the front line. They have one offensive lineman in the Ring of Honor, Paul Gruber, and he never made the Pro Bowl. They've had other warriors -- Tony Mayberry, Davin Joseph, Randy Grimes -- but it's never been considered a complete unit.

Until now.

Granted, most of this line's reputation comes from protecting Tom Brady -- an important job, to be sure -- but the Bucs rank just 24th running the ball. But no line in the NFL has allowed fewer sacks than the Bucs'.

"The offensive line sets the tone every week," said quarterback Tom Brady. "We’ve got some great guys up front who have really led the way all season. We’re going to have to rely on those guys to do great things for us this week. Especially going against the front that we’re going against. Big, powerful guys inside. Very athletic rushers on the outside. This is a very, very good defense that we’re facing. Again, we’re just going to have to keep adapting. We lose a couple of guys in the game, a couple of guys with COVID and so forth that you lose. Just have to keep adjusting, adapting to figure out how we can adjust as best we possibly can.

"There’s five great linemen we have that all play. Three of them got selected. They’re really well coached. ‘Goody’ (Harold Goodwin) and Joe [Gilbert] and A.Q. [Shipley] do a good job of coaching Ryan [Jensen], Ali [Marpet] and Tristan [Wirfs]. Alex [Cappa] and ‘Donny’ (Donovan Smith) are phenomenal players. They’ve been the strength of our team all season. I love playing with those guys. They take a lot of pride in what they do. Everyone loves that they got the recognition because they deserve it. At the same time, they want to go earn it and make sure they’re playing their football this time of year.”

Marpet has been close to the Pro Bowl before, but this time, he made it.

"I just feel so grateful," Marpet said. "It’s been a grind. It’s been a journey. It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s awesome. It feels really good.”

For Jensen, it was a highlight in his career.

“It’s amazing," he said. "Nine years in the league, coming from a Division II school and getting that recognition – it’s huge and humbling. It’s an honor to be honest. I don’t want to say I was shocked, but I was a little emotional when I found out. It’s something as a player you work towards to be revered as one of the better players in the league and that’s another step in that direction. It was an amazing phone call.

"Frankly for Ali, it’s been long overdue. He’s been one of the better left guards in the league for multiple years and is finally getting some recognition for it. It’s awesome for him. I know he was excited. Tristan is in his second year and one of the best right tackles in the league. Getting voted in his second year is a huge honor. Just having three guys on one line getting voted into the Pro Bowl is a testament to how hard we work.”

Wirfs made it in his second season.

“It was pretty cool getting to [be selected] with your teammates, especially guys you play next to and everything," Wirfs said. "That was awesome. I know how much it means to those two guys. Ali has like 103 career starts. That’s just awesome. They’re two just absolute dogs. Getting to be named to the Pro Bowl with those guys is pretty awesome.

"Personally, I think we should have had five guys go, but I think they felt the same. They were excited for the guys that got picked, but hopefully we’re not playing in that game. [Hopefully] we’re playing in the other one. Everyone was excited, but it’s pretty cool to have three guys.”

The Bucs' line next has to block the Carolina Panthers. The teams play at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Charlotte.

Previous post:

Next post: