Even though two-fifths of the starting O-Line is still undetermined, the Buccaneers believe they have talented candidates for the job and enough time to form a cohesive five-man front.
Anthony Collins knows he mans the marquee spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ drastically reshaped offensive line. In the hierarchy of positions on an NFL depth chart, left tackle is considered by most to be second in importance only to quarterback. Maybe third.
If that’s a challenge, Collins eagerly accepts. He thinks the most important job in all of football is protecting the quarterback, and he’s happy that it’s his job. However, he knows he can’t do it alone. More than any other group on the field, the offensive line has to be one cohesive unit…which is exactly what the Buccaneers are trying to create in training camp. The complicating factor in that effort is that the team doesn’t yet know who its two starting guards will be.
“The most important part on the field is to protect the quarterback, but it’s the whole line,” said Collins. “It starts with both of the tackles, [extending] to the guards and the center. The center has to know everything, the guards have to be powerful and the tackles have to know how to pass-set. If we get all five of those categories right then we’ll be a good team.”
Three of those five appear to have strong answers. Collins and right tackle Demar Dotson have both looked very good in training camp so far and while center Evan Dietrich-Smith is currently sidelined with a minor foot injury he was also off to a great start, according to Head Coach Lovie Smith. In the spaces between Dietrich-Smith and Collins and Dietrich-Smith and Dotson, however, the Buccaneers have been rotating candidates in and out liberally over the first 11 days of camp.
Four guards have seen the most first-team reps so far: Jamon Meredith and rookie Kadeem Edwards, primarily on the left side; Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh, primarily on the right side. Unless the Bucs add a player to the roster between now and the start of the season, the answers on the interior line are likely to come from some combination of those four. Even if Smith and his staff are not particularly close to making a final decision, they do believe they have good options from which to choose.
“We like the prospects,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of players at the positions that have started a lot of games. We have young talent at the line. You go against Gerald McCoy every day, you get better. We’re getting better. But we have a group of guys working there. We don’t have any starting lineups or anything like that right now. But it will continue to clear up for us on who our guards will be.”
Because there has only been a little bit of fully “live” work on the practice field – with game-like hitting and tackling – Smith thinks the most important part of the evaluation has yet to occur. That would be the four preseason games, the first of which is now just four days away. Smith also said, however, that results on the practice field are what determine the pecking order for playing time when those games arrive, which means the starting O-Line lineup on Friday should be somewhat informative.
Those games will also be a good opportunity for the all-important cohesiveness to develop, particularly if two guard candidates seize the reins and take a clear lead in the battle to start.
“It doesn’t take long [to jell], but the chemistry takes a while,” said Collins. “The good thing about the offseason and training camp is that’s when the O-Line needs to be together. We don’t need any holdouts, we don’t need any injuries, we don’t need any problems. All of the chemistry is what matters to get to the Super Bowl.”
Smith agrees that the offensive line has enough time to come together before the games start to count.
“We’ve been together for a while now. I don’t think you have to play together five years to get that chemistry,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of practices together, a lot of time together in the meeting rooms. Green Bay is a distant memory for Evan. Cincinnati is a distant memory for Anthony. They’re coming.”
Even though this marks the first time in his seven-year NFL career that Collins is entering the season as a starter, he is clearly very confident in himself. He’s apparently confident in the Buccaneers’ coaches and personnel evaluators, too, because he’s not worried about how the starting five on the O-Line is going to shake out.
“Whoever is playing next to me and whoever is playing next to Dot are going to get the job done and that’s all I look forward to,” he said.