As expected, Joe Hawley will open the season as the Bucs' starting center, winning a close competition with fellow veteran Evan Smith, coach Dirk Koetter said after Friday's practice.
"Joe's going to start," Koetter said. "I think it would be fair to say we feel like we have two starting centers. In this particular case, because we did have some injuries in fall camp, could Evan Smith's versatility have worked against him? Yes. There were days where he had to play starting guard at both sides and Joe's the center. Both those guys are going to play throughout the season. We started it the other way last year and Evan got hurt. We're real fortunate to have those two guys. They're both really good leaders and really good communicators."
Hawley joined the Bucs in Week 2 last season after being cut by the Falcons, and when Smith went down with an ankle injury that very week, Hawley stepped in and held the job the rest of the season. Smith returned healthy and stepped in as the starting right guard for three games when Ali Marpet was injured.
The Bucs will open the season with Smith as the top backup at center and guard and Gosder Cherilus expected to be the other backup lineman to dress each week, with rookies Caleb Benenoch and Leonard Wester inactive if the Bucs only dress seven.