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Tristan Wirfs was super as a Bucs rookie. What can he do for an encore?

The right tackle allowed only one sack and did not miss an offensive snap during his first season with Tampa Bay.
As a Bucs rookie last year, Tristan Wirfs gave up a grand total of one sack, and that came fairly early in the season.
As a Bucs rookie last year, Tristan Wirfs gave up a grand total of one sack, and that came fairly early in the season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 15
Updated Jun. 15

Tristan Wirfs was lifting in the University of Iowa weight room a few weeks ago when his eyes were diverted to the biggest personal goal for his second pro season.

Hanging on a wall were the Pro Bowl jerseys of former Hawkeye players such as George Kittle, Brandon Scherff and T.J. Hockenson.

When you win a Super Bowl as a rookie the way Wirfs did, there has to be more dreams listed on your Post-its to fulfill.

“I thought it would be pretty cool to get a Pro Bowl jersey and be able to hang it up there,” he said. “Making the Pro Bowl would be one of my goals this year.”

The fact of the matter is that Wirfs’ No. 78 Bucs jersey should already be framed on the campus in Iowa City. Not only was Wirfs the only Tampa Bay player to log all 1,347 offensive snaps, including the postseason, in 2020, but he allowed only one sack.

One.

And that one came in a 20-19 loss at Chicago to Bears defensive end Khalil Mack in Week 5.

Wirfs graded out as the second highest-rated right tackle in the NFL (82.2) by Pro Football Focus. His 81.0 pass blocking grade was the second highest ever given by PFF since Marshal Yanda (who also played at Iowa) in 2007.

Wirfs did it while playing against some of the toughest pass rushers in the NFL, including the Saints’ Cameron Jordan and the Chargers’ Joey Bosa.

Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs walks onto the field during mandatory Bucs minicamp last week.
Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs walks onto the field during mandatory Bucs minicamp last week. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

But the highest praise may have come from his own teammate, outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who faced him every day in practice.

“Tristan is the best tackle that I’ve played against,” Barrett said. “He learns from his mistakes and he doesn’t repeat those mistakes anymore. It’s going to be good to go against him in training camp coming up because it’s going to make me a better player because I’m going to be able to work on different pass rushes and different game plans.

“If I’m able to break him down and get some wins on him, then it’s most definitely going to translate over to the other tackles in the league.”

At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, Wirfs had the size and measurables to warrant the Bucs trading up to select him 13th overall in the 2020 draft.

But his athleticism and quick feet separate him from the rest of the tackles in the league. Wirfs was a state champion wrestler in high school and grew up playing a variety of sports, including baseball.

Once he got to the NFL, Wirfs received a daily test from two of the best outside pass rushers in the NFL: Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.

“It’s hard to put into words,” coach Bruce Arians said of Wirfs’ rookie performance. “No (organized team activities). No preseason games. You get baptized by two pretty good guys as things started to get going last summer. But to go against the guys he went against early in September, I think it gave him a ton of confidence and you could never ask any more out of a rookie, that’s for dadgum sure.

“I think the sky’s the limit for what he can do.”

Add to all that the pressure of having to protect future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who had left New England after 20 seasons to seek another Super Bowl with the Bucs.

“That’s always in your mind, just making sure nobody comes close to him or gets near him,” Wirfs said of Brady. “But I remember he told us last year, ‘Don’t get beat fast and don’t get beat inside and we’ll be all right.’ So I kind of held onto that pretty tight. ...

“Tom’s a very motivated person and having him back there, he definitely brings the best out of us. And then at the same time, for me and probably Donnie (Donovan Smith) you want to keep him safe. You don’t want anything to happen to him, so that’s really cool, too.”

Clearly, Wirfs already is pretty good in pass protection. But he believes he can become a better run blocker. The Bucs tied for 27th with 1,519 rushing yards.

“Something I’m working on is trying to stay on my toes when I’m run blocking so I’m not getting all top heavy and leaning forward and falling over,” Wirfs said. “(Offensive line) coach (Joe) Gilbert sent me some stuff to try to work on over this offseason.”

Needless to say, Wirfs’ performance as a rookie has made him an even bigger celebrity in his home town of Mount Vernon, Iowa. His NFL accomplishments will be celebrated during Heritage Days, the town festival held each July.

Wirfs can only hope that he wasn’t spoiled by winning a Super Bowl in his first year. He obviously is focused on helping the Bucs to back-to-back NFL titles.

“I don’t think nervous is the right word, but it’s something that you always think about after you come off something good,” Wirfs said. “For me, something that always sticks in my mind is something that (Iowa) coach (Kirk) Ferentz always said, ‘The hay is never in the barn.’ You’re never there, you never made it, you always have work to do.

“I’ve started to write down some goals and I feel like coming to work every day with a good attitude and effort. I think those two things, we can always control that. Just always trying to get better. That’s never going to go away.”

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