TAMPA — These days, Tristan Wirfs can laugh about his NFL rookie disorientation, provided in his inaugural training camp by Bucs pass rush extraordinaire Shaquil Barrett.
“He hit me with like, a fake long-arm to dip and rip,” the Bucs' first-year right tackle said Saturday. “I went to punch, and then he was just gone. ... I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ So that was kind of funny, just watching back on film. You could see the panic in my body language when I realized he was behind me already.”
When you’re a 21-year-old rookie thrust into one of football’s most demanding spots, some humbling rites of pass protection are inevitable. Turns out, Barrett’s de facto clinic was among the first of a few lessons Wirfs has absorbed in his initial months on the job.
But you’re not likely to find a faster learner among the 2020 batch of rookies.
“I would think he’s a legitimate Pro Bowl-type player,” veteran Bucs run-game coordinator Harold Goodwin said earlier this week. “It’s been a battle week-in and week-out for him, and he’s answered the bell every time.”
Football data/analytics site Pro Football Focus currently lists Wirfs as the NFL’s highest-graded rookie offensive tackle (72.0). It also indicates he has the second-lowest quarterback-pressure percentage (5.1) among first-round offensive tackles, behind only the Jets' Mekhi Becton (4.8).
Those numbers weren’t built against bantamweights. Wirfs faced Saints five-time Pro Bowl player Cam Jordan in his debut game, and Bears three-time All-Pro selection Khalil Mack four weeks later. Jordan had no sacks and one hit of Tom Brady; Mack had a pair of sacks, accounting for 25 percent of the total sacks allowed by Tampa Bay in seven games.
Even so, Goodwin said Wirfs' “hiccup” in that game was a technique problem and not an issue of him being overpowered.
“So with (Mack), it’s pretty cool because he can give you power, and at the same time he’s shifty,” Wirfs said. “So when he puts those two together, it’s tough. But it’s cool being able to (say), ‘I went against Khalil Mack, he’s pretty good.’”
Seven weeks in, the Iowa native remains a bit star struck. Even as his own star ascends.
“I think each person I’ve gone against kind of helps me with a different thing,” Wirfs said.
“There are different things I’ve got to get ready for, moves that they show me. When I was going against Shaq and Cam, there was stuff that I had never seen before. ... It’s been cool just learning as I go every game. But it’s been pretty fun.”
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