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With no pressing need, Bucs look ahead

Published Apr. 23, 2017

TAMPA — At first glance, offensive line doesn't seem like a pressing need for the Bucs.

They have their entire starting offensive line back from last season, with guard J.R. Sweezy now healthy after missing 2016 season due to back surgery. They are moving guard Ali Marpet to center, where they also have two former starters on the roster.

So though they have depth, if there is an opening for a rookie -- even a high draft pick -- it would be at right tackle, where veteran Demar Dotson is 31 and in a contract that carries no salary cap hit if he's released. A rookie could compete for a starting job this year and eventually replace Dotson.

The Bucs have major offensive line decisions ahead in the next two years. Left guard Kevin Pamphile can be a free agent in 2018, and Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith can be free agents in 2019.

This year's draft, Thursday through Saturday in Philadelphia, is generally seen as being weak at offensive line. It's possible that the Bucs, picking at No. 19 overall in the first round, could still have all the offensive line prospects available when they're on the clock.

The last time no offensive linemen were taken in the top 15 picks of a draft was 1958, when the first taken was at No. 18, going to the Chicago Cardinals. At least one offensive lineman has been taken in the top 10 every year since 2005, but that streak is likely to end.

Who might the Bucs take if they choose to go with an offensive lineman? Alabama's Cam Robinson and Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk are likely the top tackles, with Temple's Dion Dawkins, Western Kentucky's Forrest Lamp and Utah's Garett Bolles among the other potential first-rounders.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has consistently said this offseason that he likes his offensive line. Tampa Bay didn't sign any linemen in free agency, and if they don't draft one, they still will have prospects to develop. Caleb Benenoch, last year's fifth-round pick, played tackle in college but has been groomed as a guard by the Bucs, who also have Leonard Wester, an undrafted rookie who made the cut last season.

With three starters getting to the end of their rookie contracts in the next two years, the Bucs will have major decisions to make, either committing to pay what it would take to keep them or finding replacements. What they do, or don't do, in the draft will offer insights.

FIRST-ROUND OPTIONS

Cam Robinson, T, Alabama: A three-year starter at left tackle, has size and strength. Even in a weak class, should be first offensive lineman taken.

Garett Bolles, T, Utah: Says a lot about the draft class that one of the best prospects started one year in major college football and turns 25 in May.

Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky: Has risen steadily in the spring. Ran 5.00-second 40-yard dash at 309 pounds. Athletic enough to catch 9-yard touchdown pass in bowl game on screen pass.

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MID-ROUND OPTIONS

Dorian Johnson, G, Pittsburgh: Had a private workout with Bucs. Could learn as rookie, challenge for spot in 2018.

Julien Davenport, T, Bucknell: Bucs had small-school success with Ali Marpet (Hobart College) two years ago. Have spent time evaluating long-armed 6-foot-7 prospect.

Roderick Johnson, T, Florida State: Good length at 6-7, 298 pounds.

LATE-ROUND OPTIONS

Kyle Kalis, G, Michigan: Father Todd played eight years as NFL lineman. Good size at 6-4, 308. Should be available late on third day.

David Sharpe, G/T, Florida: Huge at 6-6, 343, but doesn't look like he should have left Gators early. Two-year starter at left tackle. Hasn't helped himself in spring.

Joe Scelfo, C, N.C. State: Father Chris was assistant with Bucs' Dirk Koetter on the Falcons when Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith was Atlanta's head coach. Started at South Alabama. Handled ACC play well.

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