Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Depth on Bucs offensive line being tested early

TAMPA — Through nine practices, the Bucs have encountered all kinds of absences at the offensive guard position, which has allowed them to test their depth in advance of Thursday's preseason opener at Philadelphia.

J.R. Sweezy, signed to a five-year, $32 million contract in March, has yet to practice with the team due to lingering injuries, though he said July 29 that he's "close."

The team has plugged in Kevin Pamphile since organized team activities in April, but Pamphile has missed the past two practices with a personal matter. It's unknown when he'll return, with two practices left before Thursday's game.

Pamphile's absence prompted the Bucs to plug Evan Smith — competing for the starting center job — in at left guard. Smith has a background at center but played well at right guard last season, filling in when Ali Marpet was injured.

The Bucs have struggled to keep backups on the field at guard. Rookie Dominique Robertson was shot twice in California in June and waived-injured before camp started. Rookie Caleb Benenoch was working as the second-string right guard when he injured his ankle and has missed a week of practice; coach Dirk Koetter said he'll be out "a while," though he was off crutches Saturday.

The Bucs had signed Caylin Hauptmann for short-term depth while Benenoch was injured, but Hauptmann was waived Saturday with a "left team" designation, suggesting he walked away from an opportunity. A corresponding addition should be made this morning.

For now, the Bucs have Josh Allen, a converted center, at left guard on the second line and undrafted rookie Taylor Fallin working at right guard. But with a preseason game in four days, one weak spot could limit their ability to evaluate offensive backups at other positions.

WORKING HARD: The same day the Bucs released their first depth chart of preseason, confirming that TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins had fallen to second string, the third-year pro had one of the bigger moments of Saturday's practice with back-to-back catches in two-minute-drill work.

Seferian-Jenkins caught a high pass down the middle from backup QB Mike Glennon, then at the goal line broke away from S Major Wright and made a leaping catch for a touchdown.

"It was great to see Austin with back-to-back big plays in that period," said Koetter, who last week had stressed that Seferian-Jenkins had to play better to keep up with new starter Cameron Brate.

Brate continues to make plays as well, but Seferian-Jenkins said he was happy to step up when the goal-line call came his way.

"When I get an opportunity to make a play, I want to make a play," he said. "When Mike trusts me and throws a ball up there and I go get it, it feels good to come down with it."

Seferian-Jenkins got up from the catch and celebrated in midair with WR Donteea Dye. The second week of training camp has more game situations like two-minute and red-zone drills, where success can be easy to celebrate.

"You've got to celebrate that — you've got to enjoy everyone being on the same page and doing the right things," Seferian-Jenkins said. "Regardless of the situation, success breeds success and positive energy brings positive energy. I just want to bring positive energy."

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow him at @gregauman.

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