TAMPA — The Bucs began internal discussions about trading for guard Logan Mankins in June and their talks with the Patriots began about two weeks ago. It was a good example of how planning and patience can pay off, with the veil of a little smokescreen.
General manager Jason Licht and Jon Robinson, director of player personnel, both worked for Bill Belichick and are familiar with the Patriot Way of dispensing with high-priced veterans a year or two before their expiration date. Mankins also was asked to take a pay cut from his $6.25 million salary in 2014 right after the Pro Bowl and refused.
The Bucs may have given the Patriots a little push. Although they had some genuine interest in disgraced Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, becoming the first team to visit with him sent a signal to the Patriots. Less than 24 hours after Incognito arrived in Tampa, Mankins was dealt for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick in 2015.
He has seven days to learn the language and plays, become acquainted with teammates, practice under offensive line coach George Warhop and perfect his assignments for the game plan against Carolina.
"It won't be an issue," said coach Lovie Smith. "Logan will tell you it won't be an issue. That won't stop him from playing a great game, or learning our offense, our terminology and things like that. Again, you can change the names, but he's seen a lot of different looks, just about all of the different looks and different blitzes. He played Carolina (in his) last game as a Patriot. He was playing against Carolina, so he should be okay."
Right tackle Demar Dotson is the only holdover from last year's starting offensive line. Aside from Mankins, 32, the others don't have much experience. Left tackle Anthony Collins started eight games for the Bengals last year. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith started only 2013 for the Packers. Guard Patrick Omameh was a practice squad player. Even Mankins admits his game is on the decline. He's never been a great pass blocker but he is a grinder and gets the job done.
Smith thinks all the talk about chemistry on the O-line is overblown.
"You just have to go with the best possible group," Smith said. "I feel good about the staff going in. And a player like Logan Mankins, you're right, he hasn't played here. There's been talk an awful lot about, 'offensive lines, they have to gather and they have to start.' I don't buy that completely. Not completely at all. I think you get the best possible guys when you can and you make moves when you have to."
NO PRESSURE: It's reasonable to believe defensive tackle Gerald McCoy could have a career year playing in Smith's run-be-damned-rush-the-QB system. Although the starting defensive line only had two sacks in 14 preseason series, it got consistent pressure and forced turnovers. But Smith is worried about the backups since the Bucs will use a seven-man rotation on the D-line.
"It's disappointing on some of the pressure we weren't able to get,'' he said. ''It's been documented how we want to play football. It will be a big challenge for our group. As we look at it, the challenge for our defensive line this week will be to outplay Carolina's defensive line. Carolina, by the 60 sacks or something like that last year, they have an excellent front seven. We need to play better than them up front. Part of that isn't just the four guys that are starting or even five. A couple other players have to step up. "
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.