Bucs' offensive line was 'just average' last year, coach says
Offensive line was arguably the Bucs' most improved position last season, as Tampa Bay went from allowing 52 sacks in 2014 -- tied for third-most in the NFL -- to allowing just 27 in 2015, tied for the fourth-lowest total out of 32 teams.
The addition of rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet played a big role in that, as did the signing of center Joe Hawley, but as offensive line coach George Warhop addressed his line this offseason, his message was only that he expects much more than what he saw last fall.
The Bucs led the NFL with 124 total quarterback hits allowed in 2014, and while that total dropped to 109 in 2015, that still represented the fourth-highest total in the NFL, which Warhop won't tolerate.
"Too many quarterback hits, regardless. I don't care whose fault it is," Warhop said Thursday at One Buc Place. "We all have a hand in that. It's one of our points of emphasis this year. First meeting, 'Hey, listen, guys. Everybody's telling me what a great job you did. I thought we were just average, really.' At the end of the day, we can play much better in all parts of the game, but the No. 1 thing is there's too much hits on the quarterback. We've got to cut it down."
The Bucs lost a seven-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to retirement and signed guard J.R. Sweezy from Seattle in free agency to replace him. Sweezy hasn't practiced due to an offseason procedure, but Warhop said he's been active in meetings in learning a new offense, noting that Marpet is now back on the practice fields after missing about two weeks recovering earlier this spring. Where Mankins will be missed most this fall, he said, was in his leadership and ability to help younger linemen learn to play in the NFL.
"I'm not ready for it," Warhop said of Mankins' absence. "I miss Logan. ... He is as tough a man as I've ever been around, and he does as good a job with the young guys as an veteran I've been around. ... All he wants to do is be the best. In today's environment, it's hard to find guys with all of those qualities. ... It's hard to find a guy that's made that way. How will I miss him? Leadership and how he dealt with the young guys. I thought he was really valuable to Ali and Donovan in their success and their growth."
Warhop has solid depth beyond his five starters -- he said Evan Smith is "right in the thick of it" competing with Joe Hawley for the starting center job, and Kevin Pamphile's versatility to help at tackle or guard (he's working at center as well) is "crazy valuable" and efficient at both positions. He's pleased with the talent in undrafted rookies like tackle Leonard Wester and guard Dominique Robertson being able to compete for backup jobs as well.