The Bucs shook the bushes, and the California redwoods, to find Alex Cappa

Offensive lineman Alex Cappa (65) takes a break between drills at Bucs rookie minicamp on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Tampa. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Offensive lineman Alex Cappa (65) takes a break between drills at Bucs rookie minicamp on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Tampa. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published May 12
Updated May 12

TAMPA – Alex Cappa is a pretty soft-spoken, genteel and mild-mannered guy. But on the football field, he isn't afraid to let his hair down, so to speak.
In fact, his long, blond locks flowing south just below his shoulders only add to his grizzly demeanor.

Depending on whom you talk to, Cappa's game tape from Division II Humboldt State is either nasty, violent or something that might cross the boundaries of normal offensive line play.

"This guy had the nastiest tape I've ever seen,'' NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Cappa. "He just hip torques people out of the club.''
For his part, Cappa makes no apologies.

"I feel it's the most important thing for an offensive lineman,'' Cappa said. "You've got to be able to compete and be physical, but really, that's just how you play the game.''

The NFL has been known to shake the bushes of tiny schools, hoping a player will fall out. In Cappa's case, the league had to get lost in the redwood forest edging the coast of Arcata, Calif., with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and Humboldt Bay.

That's where the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Cappa managed to hide out for about four years until pro scouts found him. The next thing you know, he was given an invitation to the Senior Bowl in February where he more than held his own against players from Power Five conferences.

"I think what most people don't realize is how many colleges play football,'' Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "I mean, we got a young corner out here that didn't even play his senior year of high school and then played at a small school. We've got a couple NAIA guys. There's just a lot of guys playing football; they're not on national TV every week. That's where (general manager) Jason (Licht's) scouts, your regional scouts out there, that are beating the bushes and sometimes they come across those smaller guys, and they keep their mouths shut. They're not spreading the word. You never know how it's going to work out, but sometimes it does.''

Because it worked for the Bucs a couple of years ago, when they plucked guard Ali Marpet from Division III Hobart College, they were more willing to use a couple of draft picks to secure a third-round selection and take Cappa.

"It's a small school, I enjoyed it a lot,'' Cappa said of Humboldt State. "It's in a small town, which is cool as a college football player. Everybody knows who you are. You get to meet all the locals, so I really enjoyed it over there.''

Cappa grew up in Dublin, Calif., a suburban city about 35 miles east of San Francisco. His father, James, is retired from the meat department of Safeway. His mother, Loretta, was a sign language interpreter. Until he reached high school, Cappa's favorite sport was baseball; he played catcher and pitched.

At Dublin High, Cappa played defense until his senior year, which might account for the way he attacks the defense.

"He's sharp. Very sharp,'' Koetter said. "That's one thing, when you don't have the pads on, you can learn how sharp they are and how quickly they pick it up, how naturally football comes to them. He's definitely one that fits into that category.''

What separates Cappa, aside from his hair and the untamed playing style, is his versatility. Not unlike Marpet at Hobart College, Cappa played left tackle for Humboldt State. The Bucs loved that versatility. This past week at rookie minicamp, Cappa lined up at right guard, but the Bucs believe he can play right tackle or center, if need be.

That's significant since Marpet has been moved from center to left guard with the addition of Ravens free agent center Ryan Jensen. Right guard J.R. Sweezy still is recovering from an injury. Right tackle Demar Dotson had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, and the Bucs only hope he will be healed by training camp. If not, the team might have to move Caleb Benenoch from right guard to right tackle, potentially opening an opportunity for Cappa.

"That's one of the things we liked about him,'' Koetter said. "A lot of these smaller-school guys played left tackle for their school, but they're often projected somewhere else. We feel like he's a guy who could play across the line. In his college days, he did practice some as a center, too. And on game day, when you've got seven (offensive linemen) up, you got to be able to play more than one position. We're going to primarily work him as a guard. We're going to work with him at everything. He would be a right guard, right tackle, center right now.''

A better evaluation will come when the pads come on in training camp. But there's already a lot to like about the Bucs' mane man.

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