Everything that once was right is wrong for Bucs tackle Tristan Wirfs

The Pro Bowl right tackle says he thinks about his switch to the left side of the line “all day, every day.”
Bucs offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (78) speaks to the media at the conclusion of organized team activities Tuesday at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa.
Bucs offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (78) speaks to the media at the conclusion of organized team activities Tuesday at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published June 6|Updated June 6

TAMPA — Tristan Wirfs was a man-child at right tackle as soon as he entered the NFL in 2020. He won a Super Bowl as a rookie, was named first-team All-Pro the next year and was selected to his second Pro Bowl in his third season.

But since being asked to move to left tackle by coach Todd Bowles the day after the 2022 season ended, Wirfs said he feels as if he’s been taking baby steps.

‘I’m like a newborn baby now on the left,” Wirfs said following Tuesday’s organized team activities at AdventHealth Training Center.

What’s different about switching sides for the former first-round pick from Iowa?

“Everything,” he said. “It’s just, everything’s backwards. Getting used to throwing my left hand instead of my right and not throwing with my right and opening up. My weight distribution. Like, I always used to keep my weight on my left leg. I want to keep it on my right.

“It’s all different. It’s so similar, it’s like you’re doing the same stuff, but it’s all just flipped. So, just get as many reps as I can with (offensive line) Coach Joe (Gilbert) and just keep building.”

The team’s decision to release left tackle Donovan Smith after eight seasons necessitated the move. Smith was coming off his worst year as a pro, allowing seven sacks and leading the team in penalty yardage.

Compounding things was the fact rookie Luke Goedeke flamed out trying to make a switch to left guard last season. The Bucs have since moved him to right tackle, the position he played at Central Michigan.

“He wants to be the best that he can be,” Wirfs said of Goekede, who started seven games at left guard last season before being replaced by Nick Leverett. “I want him to be the best he could be. And I told him, ‘I know what I’m talking about over there (on the right side).’”

The Bucs didn’t address the tackle position in the draft, and you could argue this has been their plan all along.

They knew Wirfs had the skill set to play left tackle. He’s extremely athletic, with good feet and outstanding technique. He also wants to continue to be great.

He actually played three games at left tackle at Iowa before the Bucs made him the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Over time, Wirfs said, some of the muscle memory has begun to return.

“It’s slowly coming back,” he said. “Like, my set came at first. You know, it felt so weird and I’m like, ‘OK, it’s starting to get better now.’ It’s, like, kind of one thing at a time. It’s getting more comfortable. Now I’ve got to work on my vertical set and getting that back.

“I think the biggest thing is my hands, because my right hand was like my bread and butter. So now this (left) one didn’t really do much; it was just kind of sitting here. So now I’ve got to wake it up. It’s like actually getting it used to doing stuff instead of just being there just in case of emergency: I’ve got to do this job now.”

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What's different about switching sides on the offensive line? “Everything,” Bucs left tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “It’s just, everything’s backwards."
What's different about switching sides on the offensive line? “Everything,” Bucs left tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “It’s just, everything’s backwards." [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The switch to left tackle also means a new teammate at guard. The Bucs traded Shaq Mason to the Houston Texans and signed former Charger Matt Feiler as a free agent to play left guard

“Matt’s huge,” Wrifs said of the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Feiler. “It’s been great. I think I’ve said a bunch: getting the offensive line to jell is the biggest thing, and getting as many reps next to the guy you’re going to play with is huge. ... It all comes with reps, but Matt has been great.”

Wirfs also has developed a close relationship off the field with the person whose blind side he will be protecting: quarterback Baker Mayfield. They’ve attended a Lightning game together but mostly have become dinner pals.

“It came pretty organically,” Wirfs said of the friendship. “I mean, I think he asked me to go out to eat one day. I said, ‘Sounds good. You’re speaking my language.’ But yeah, we’ve hung out. We’ve hung out a little bit. You know, I got to meet his wife. We all went to dinner. We’ve gone to dinner, I think, every week. I love Baker. It’s been a short time, but I know we get along fantastic. Our relationship is great so far. I’m really excited.”

While Wirfs never seems to seem stressed about anything, the move is not an insignificant one. At stake is not only his All-Pro status, he also is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2024 season. Left tackles earn more money. The 49ers’ Trent Williams is the highest-paid left tackle at $19.4 million per season, while the Colts’ Braden Smith earns the most among right tackles at $16 million.

“I think about it all day every day,” Wirfs said of the change. “I think I’ve played the season in my head like five times. But just picturing yourself taking sets, when you’re watching film, or like picturing yourself doing something how you want to do it ... just trying to rewire it in my head the best I can.”

Does he worry about how good he will be?

“Every day,” Wirfs said. “I have very high expectations of myself. And I don’t want to let anybody else down, so it’s just doing my best to keep those thoughts positive and to kind of take every day as (an) opportunity to get better.”

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