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Bucs left guard spot still ‘wide open’ entering preseason opener

At least four players are vying for the spot created by Ali Marpet’s retirement.
Seminole High alumnus Brandon Walton (73), left, and versatile third-year veteran Nick Leverett (60) are among those competing for the starting left-guard spot vacated by Ali Marpet, who retired in February.
Seminole High alumnus Brandon Walton (73), left, and versatile third-year veteran Nick Leverett (60) are among those competing for the starting left-guard spot vacated by Ali Marpet, who retired in February. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 7|Updated Aug. 7

TAMPA — Perhaps the only quantifiable measure of who’s gaining the upper hand in the Bucs’ competition at left guard involves who lines up with the first team each day.

But even that’s far from an accurate gauge in one of the most intense position battles of training camp, created by Pro Bowler Ali Marpet’s stunning retirement in February.

“Right now, it’s wide open in my opinion,” assistant head coach and run-game coordinator Harold Goodwin said Sunday.

Veteran Aaron Stinnie, who shined in place of injured right guard Alex Cappa during the 2020 postseason, got the first-team reps for the fifth time in 10 practices Sunday. A day earlier, 24-year-old Seminole High alumnus Brandon Walton got the first-team assignment for the third time this preseason.

Versatile third-year veteran Nick Leverett, whom Goodwin calls the unit’s “Swiss-army knife,” has taken first-team reps twice so far. Rookie Luke Goedeke, transitioning to guard after blossoming into an NFL prospect at tackle for Central Michigan, shapes up as a dark horse in the competition.

Stinnie (four starts, including three playoffs) is the only member of the group with an NFL start to his name. “The beautiful thing about it, it’s fun to watch,” Goodwin said.

“Because think about it, you’ve got all these guys that actually get a shot to win the job, when usually you come into camp, it’s pretty much solidified. But to have three or four guys rotate in and try to give their best every day, I like watching it.”

Nonetheless, Goodwin acknowledged at some point he’ll have to pick a starter to afford that player an opportunity to develop chemistry with left tackle Donovan Smith and projected starting center Robert Hainsey. The likeliest timetable is some point before the Aug. 27 preseason finale against the Colts.

“Those guys care, those guys compete, they help each other out,” Goodwin said. “But at the end of the day, they all want to win that job. But at a certain point here, I’ve just got to go ahead and pick a guy.”

Odds and ends

Second-year quarterback Kyle Trask’s shaky camp continued with two more interceptions in one team period Sunday. The former Gator was picked by Ross Cockrell when he overthrew rookie tight end Cade Otton, and his short dump-off pass over the middle was easily snagged by rookie linebacker Jordan Young. ... Receiver Chris Godwin, returning from offseason knee surgery, suited up and did positional drills for the third consecutive day but remained held out of team periods. Fellow receiver Mike Evans, who exited practice Friday after appearing to tweak a hamstring, didn’t suit up for the second day in a row. ... Kicker Jose Borregales, whom head coach Todd Bowles has said will compete with incumbent Ryan Succop for the job, was perfect on six field goals of varying distances Sunday. “They haven’t told me personally (it’s a bona fide competition), but I’m treating it as it is,” the former Lou Groza Award winner from Miami said. ... Otton had arguably his best day of camp so far with no fewer than three touchdown catches, including a reception from Tom Brady in the corner of the end zone with linebacker K.J. Britt in coverage. “I had a lot of fun (Sunday),” Otton said. “It’s always fun making plays down the field. There are some things at the line of scrimmage you want to clean up ... but I’m just having a ton of fun right now.”

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