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Offensive-line depth in spotlight in Bucs' win over Browns

Running back Charles Sims, left, takes off behind the offensive line, which was without two starters vs. the Browns. “I thought everybody came out and played well,” center Joe Hawley says.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Running back Charles Sims, left, takes off behind the offensive line, which was without two starters vs. the Browns. “I thought everybody came out and played well,” center Joe Hawley says.

TAMPA — 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 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 preseason win over the Browns in which several players were pressed into larger roles. That started with Josh Allen, who filled in at left guard for his friend.

"(Allen) played a phenomenal game," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "He and Kevin are the tightest of friends. 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 backstory 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, likely a third-team guard with everyone healthy, was tasked with helping protect Winston, knowing that avoiding injury was the top priority in what was the final preseason action for the top starters.

"It meant everything," Allen said. "I wanted to make sure there wasn't a gap between me and Kevin. 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 when his mother died. He was excused Friday to attend her wake. Funeral services were scheduled for Saturday. He was expected to return for Monday's practice in preparation for Thursday's preseason finale against the Redskins.

Allen missed the Bucs' final cuts last year after being limited by injury in the preseason, and he was signed to the practice squad in November. Against the Browns he made a case for himself for a backup job, drawing praise from the veteran members of the line.

"I thought everybody came out and played well," center Joe Hawley said. "Really, really proud of Josh and the way he stepped up and played really well, played with a lot of confidence. 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 early with a knee injury, and backup Ben Gottschalk was thrust into the game, though Hawley returned after missing one play. Gottschalk, like most of the second line, ended up playing 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 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," Gottschalk said. "We're all interchangeable. 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 past month: guard Joel Hale, tackle Kelvin Palmer and guard Kyler Kerbyson, who joined the Bucs 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," said Kerbyson, who played on a similar-style line in college at Tennessee.

"A lot of the veterans, if I had any questions, would always answer them. They really helped me learn the offense as much as I could in the few days I had."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Offensive-line depth in spotlight in Bucs' win over Browns 08/27/16 [Last modified: Sunday, August 28, 2016 12:12am]
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