Monday, June 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In Bucs-Falcons battle, Joe Hawley at center of success

TAMPA — When teams made their final roster cuts before the season, the Bucs still were seeking a backup center, a reliable veteran to have behind returning starter Evan Smith.

Joe Hawley was coming off a torn ACL that limited him to four games last season with the Falcons and had been released days before the season opener.

First-year Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who spent the past three seasons in Atlanta, saw a perfect match.

"When Joe became available, I went to Coach (Lovie Smith) and went to Jason (Licht, general manager), and said, 'Look, we have a chance to get this guy,' " Koetter said this week. " 'He may not be quite healthy yet, but he is going to get better.' I know what kind of player Joe is."

The week Hawley was signed, center Evan Smith went down with an ankle injury against the Saints and Hawley stepped in, helping the Bucs to their first win Sept. 20. Hawley, 27, made such a strong impression that when Evan Smith got healthy a month later, the Bucs stuck with him at center. Smith filled in the past three games at right guard when another starter was sidelined by injury.

"(Hawley has) been a godsend," Koetter said. "He's helped us through two injuries. … I'm a huge Joe Hawley fan."

Sunday, the Bucs go for a season sweep of the Falcons, a year after trailing 56-0 in the fourth quarter of the first of two losses to them. Hawley has been the center of a revamped and upgraded offensive line, helping meld two rookies and two players signed since August.

"I'm just having fun playing with these guys," said Hawley, who has a Duck Dynasty-caliber beard that he has kept almost without interruption since high school. "We've got a good group of guys, and I think we play well together. We're right in the mix of the playoff race still, and this is a big game with a lot on the line."

The Bucs gave Hawley a two-year deal in September, paying him a guaranteed $1.25 million this season. But he smartly included ambitious incentives based on playing time — four $250,000 bonuses if he finished the season playing 40, 50, 62.5 or 75 percent of the offensive snaps. He has played 94 percent with five games left, so he essentially has clinched two of those bonuses and is on course to earn the other $500,000 to nearly double his income for the year.

As well as things have turned out for the Bucs at center, they have gone in the other direction for Atlanta. Its preseason starter has started only one game, the player the Falcons added in cutting Hawley has played in just two games, and the current starter hadn't started a game in four seasons before this year.

Hawley couldn't be happier, reunited with his old coordinator, his play each week rewarding the coach for a hearty endorsement.

"When you have a guy on your side that can put in a good word for you that's respected, that's very important," Hawley said. "That's the way the business is in the NFL. It's all about connections. That's why I never really burn bridges. You never know who's going to give you the next call."

Hawley quickly earned the respect of his new teammates. In the Bucs' loss to Carolina on Oct. 4, Hawley saw a Panthers player hit running back Doug Martin helmet first after a play and shoved the player in retaliation. The late hit didn't draw a flag (it later drew a fine), but it reminded the Bucs that the new guy had their back.

The Bucs gave up 52 sacks last season but are on pace to allow 32 this season despite three projected starters missing significant playing time. The offensive line has forged its chemistry with weekly Thursday night dinners — Martin even tags along — with a different player choosing the restaurant each week.

"You have to have respect for the guy you're playing next to and the style they play," Hawley said. "All the guys kind of came in together last minute, but we all really jelled really well. We have a good mix of leadership and experience and young guys trying to find their way. … We all fit really well, and we're having fun out there."

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

Comments
Ex-Bucs DE Keith McCants arrested, facing cocaine charge

Ex-Bucs DE Keith McCants arrested, facing cocaine charge

Former Alabama star and Bucs defensive end Keith McCants was arrested in St. Petersburg early Monday morning and is facing a felony charge of possession of crack cocaine, according to arrest records.McCants, 50, was arrested by the Pinellas County Sh...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Witness says Jameis Winston was unruly and alone in Uber

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Witness says Jameis Winston was unruly and alone in Uber

Tom Jones joins the podcast to talk about Jameis Winston's reported three-game suspension, as information from another witness has come out saying Winston was unruly and in the Uber by himself during the evening in question.Plus, the Rays sweep the b...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Greg Auman answers your questions about NFLís investigation into Jameis Winston

Greg Auman answers your questions about NFLís investigation into Jameis Winston

There are many unanswered questions and discrepancies about the story of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and the March 2016 Uber ride in Arizona that has led to his upcoming three-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct policy.The Bucs won't ...
Published: 06/23/18
Will this be Jameis Winstonís last season in a Bucs uniform?

Will this be Jameis Winstonís last season in a Bucs uniform?

A t his introductory news conference after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Bucs in 2015, Jameis Winston said to judge him on his actions moving forward."Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have hear...
Published: 06/23/18
Ronald Darbyís friend: Jameis Winston got into second Uber ride alone

Ronald Darbyís friend: Jameis Winston got into second Uber ride alone

New details emerged Friday night about the Uber ride in Arizona in March 2016 that led to Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston's three-game suspension to start the upcoming season, including the fact that Winston was in a car that night with a former Vand...
Published: 06/22/18
Chris Godwin on SiriusXM: Bucs have confidence in backup QBs

Chris Godwin on SiriusXM: Bucs have confidence in backup QBs

Bucs receiver Chris Godwin, who has had as good an offseason as any Tampa Bay player, was on SiriusXM NFL radio for a scheduled interview on Thursday night, talking about a range of subjects, including the news of Jameis Winston's suspension to start...
Published: 06/22/18
With Winston suspension, how might Bucs split QB reps in preseason?

With Winston suspension, how might Bucs split QB reps in preseason?

With news that Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first three games of 2018, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has an interesting decision to make for training camp and especially in preseason games: How does he split reps between Winston and backup Ryan...
Published: 06/22/18
Bucs QB Jameis Winstonís suspension: What theyíre saying

Bucs QB Jameis Winstonís suspension: What theyíre saying

There are so many sides to the Jameis Winston suspension, and it will continue to be a major Bucs story line through September and beyond. Here's some of the reactions and notes that have already emerged in the first 24 hours since news broke Thursda...
Published: 06/22/18
Welcome back to the dark side, Bucs fans

Welcome back to the dark side, Bucs fans

TAMPA — Thursday was not the end of Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but it is in sight.Me? I was sitting at home. I was tired of the NBA draft, even with Tampa's Kevin Knox going to the New York Knicks.So I switched to the NFL Network. An episode ...
Published: 06/22/18
Winston aftermath: Report says Darby wasnít in car for whole ride

Winston aftermath: Report says Darby wasnít in car for whole ride

There's no telling how much detail will be disclosed in what the NFL learned in its investigation that led to Jameis Winston being suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season, but some have already been reported in the first 24 hours s...
Published: 06/22/18