Last year, the operative word was “ugly.”
This year, the goal is “nasty.”
The Tampa Bay Bucs spent their first day of training in pads Monday, giving coach Lovie Smith a chance to look anew at his offensive line. That line includes two rookies from last year (Kevin Pamphile and Kadeem Harrison) and two from this year (Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet).
For the Bucs, the offensive line is as important of a project as any. It is the line that is supposed to keep rookie quarterback Jameis Winston upright, the line that is supposed to open holes for running back Doug Martin, the line that is supposed to provide time for Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson to run their routes. Last year, the line – rebuilt from the year before – was porous and did almost none of that.
This year, there is fresh hope. The Bucs have raved about guard Logan Mankins, and they seem to like center Evan Smith and tackle Demar Dotson. That leaves two slots, left tackle and right guard, to be won.
Monday, defenders referred to the line as “nasty.”
“Our defensive guys said that?” asked coach Lovie Smith. “Well, that’s definitely a start. We would definitely like to be nasty and tough. Physical when we describe our defensive and offensive lines. That’s the mentality we’re going to have. In our division that’s a mentality we will have to have. I think we will.
“We opened a few holes. I would say right now they definitely did some good things.”
Smith said the practice was important to see where Smith and Marpet were.
“They both had their moments today. I was over there for part of the period. I didn’t see it all, but I saw some pretty good things.”
Smith believes a strong running game could help rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
“That’s just the base part of my philosophy of how you win football games,” Smith said. “But yes with a rookie quarterback that can ease some of the pressure. We could have a 10-year veteran and I’d be saying the same thing. For us to have a physical mentality, that comes with running the football.”
Evan Smith thinks the Bucs will be better, too.
“I think when it’s all said and done, and the two spots up for grabs right now get settled, we’re going to have a good group out there. We’re going to have a good five.
“We have a great, great group of backs. I put them up against any group in the league. When we start getting that running game going, especially in this heat, it’s going to be big trouble for a lot of teams.”