As Pamphile grieves, offensive line steps up in tribute
Two Bucs starting guards were sidelined with injuries Friday night, and Kevin Pamphile, who has filled in as a starting guard since March, was excused from the game to attend memorial services for his mother, who died earlier this month.
On a tight-knit offensive line facing difficult circumstances, the Bucs stepped up in tribute to Pamphile, surrendering zero sacks in a 30-13 win over the Browns that saw several players pressed into larger roles. That starts with Josh Allen, who filled in at left guard for his friend and teammate.
"(Allen) played a phenomenal game. He and Kevin are the tightest of friends," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "So he played that game for Kevin. That offensive line played for Kevin. We played that game for Kevin and his family. That's the back story behind it, but it's still good that you know you have depth on your offensive line, no matter if somebody goes down, they're still going to go out there and compete."
Allen would likely be a third-team guard with everyone healthy, but still was tasked with helping protect Winston, knowing avoiding injury is the top priority in what would be the final preseason action for the Bucs' top starters.
"It mean everything. I wanted to make sure there wasn't a gap between me and Kevin," Allen said. "I felt great out there and I had a great group of guys out there leading me. I watch them every day, so I just try to imitate them and do what they do and listen to the coaches."
Pamphile had been excused from three practices earlier in the month when his mother died, and was excused Friday to attend her wake, with funeral services scheduled for Saturday, allowing him to return for Monday's practice in preparation for Thursday's preseason finale against the Redskins.
Allen, who missed the Bucs' final cuts last year after being limited by injury in preseason and was signed to the practice squad in November, made a case for himself and the final backup line jobs on the Bucs' roster, drawing praise from the veteran members of the line.
"I thought everybody came out and played well. Really, really proud of Josh and the way he stepped up and played really well, played with a lot of confidence," center Joe Hawley said. "Evan (Smith) stepping over to right guard played really well. That's what you need in the NFL. You need a line that can have guys step in and have a lot of depth."
Hawley had to leave the game with a knee injury early on, thrusting backup Ben Gottschalk into the game, though Hawley was able to return after missing one play. Gottschalk, like most of the second line, played 29 snaps, grateful for a chance to showcase himself and his progress. He said Friday's showing was a testament to offensive line coach George Warhop cross-training all the linemen at multiple positions to prepare for such scenarios.
"I think it really helps having Hop have as many guys as possible play center. We're all interchangeable," Gottschalk said. "If one guy goes down at center, we can bump a guard over. It makes things much easier inside."
The Bucs weren't productive offensively in the second half, but survived with a patchwork second line, with normal backup right tackle Gosder Cherilus getting work with the first unit and being done at halftime. That second line included three players who joined the team in the last month -- guard Joel Hale, tackle Kelvin Palmer and even guard Kyler Kerbyson, who joined the team on Monday and had three practices to get ready for his first game.
"It's such a great group of guys and they really took me under their wing. A lot of the veterans, if I had any questions, would always answer them," said Kerbyson, who played ion a similar-style line in college at Tennessee. "They really helped me learn the offense as much as I could in the few days I had."
Kerbyson watched Monday's practice with J.R. Sweezy, a starting guard sidelined with a back injury, getting a crash course in the line's terminology and blocking schemes. He spent much of the summer training in Knoxville, helping out his brother's football team at Knoxville Catholic and hoping for a call.
He got married to wife Brianne on July 9, and on the day he got back from their honeymoon in Tulum, Mexico, got a call from the Patriots, who had him on their roster for three weeks before cutting him last week. On Monday he was in Tampa, and on Friday night, he played 29 snaps in an NFL game.
"I'm blessed to do it," he said.