NASHVILLE — Somebody has got to protect Tom Brady — assuming the quarterback returns to play next week and beyond.
Already, the Bucs will have a new center following the significant knee injury suffered by Ryan Jensen early in training camp.
Robert Hainsey is getting every chance to prove he can win that position, and the second-year pro from Notre Dame likely will start Saturday against the Titans.
He will be replaced at center sometime in the game by Nick Leverett, who has been battling Aaron Stinnie for the left guard spot vacated by the retired Ali Marpet.
But there is a new face in that place that you shouldn’t dismiss: former Central Michigan offensive lineman Luke Goedeke.
The second-round pick (57th overall) took first-team reps at left guard during the Bucs’ joint practice with the Titans Thursday and played very well.
The plan was always to give Goedeke a good look at winning the position. But as rookie, he wasn’t trained enough in the nuances of the offense to compete for the starting spot.
Three weeks into camp, Goedeke knows enough to compete at left guard, a battle that just got more interesting.
“Now’s the time to give him a look,” coach Todd Bowles said. “You can’t put him in early, because he hasn’t learned everything. He’s learned enough now to go in and play. Like we’ve said, we’re giving all these guys shots at guard, and his time has come.”
If you think the Bucs would be hesitant to start a rookie over Stinnie or Leverett, think again.
Look at their history of drafting and developing offensive linemen from schools smaller than Central Michigan.
Marpet played at Division III Hobart College, impressed at the Senior Bowl and was drafted in the second round (61st overall) in 2015. He started at center from his first day in training camp, going up against defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Marpet wound up starting all 101 games he played in the NFL at either center or guard and was named to his only Pro Bowl after the 2021 season before calling it quits.
Guard Alex Cappa was a third-round pick out of Division II Humboldt State, which discontinued football after the 2018 season.
Cappa started 46 of the 52 games he played for the Bucs at guard until signing as a free agent this past offseason with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Goedeke deserves the same opportunity; otherwise, the Bucs may have over-drafted him.
He’s got a lot to learn from a technique standpoint, but he has the kind of snarl that’s needed with the loss of Jensen.
A self-described “glass eater,” Goedeke brings a physicality that you may not get on every play from Stinnie and/or Leverett.
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“I really see myself as a mean, nasty, relentless guy on the field,” Goedeke said. “Always looking to bury guys and just put fear into their eyes. That’s really my mentality. I’ve been playing with that field demeanor. Really a nasty guy.”
Run-blocking is Goedeke’s strength, but with Brady under center (having led the NFL with 719 pass attempts last season) pass protection will be the most important element.
That’s where Goedeke has struggled with his technique at times.
“He’s gotten better,” assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He’s doing a better job of throwing his hands in pass pro. … You’ve just got to think about it, this guy played right tackle pretty much his whole college career and he’s now on the left, so he’s trying to get acclimated, and he’s done a nice job the last couple days.
“He’s physical; he’s smart; he’s an all-football type of guy. He’s watching football 24/7. Sometimes you’ve got to tell him, ‘Relax and calm down,’ because he’s so paranoid that he’s screwing something up. But he’s going to be a good player in the long run.”
Bowles remained non-committal about which player would start at left guard, although all three will play. The Bucs would like to have that position settled heading into the preseason finale Aug. 27 at Indianapolis, but the battle could continue.
“I have an idea (who will start Saturday),” Bowles said. “But I’ll check with ‘Goody’ and (offensive line coach) Joe (Gilbert), and we’ll go from there.”
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