Bucs Training Camp Battle: Offensive Line

Will there be any surprises among Tampa Bay's starters up front?
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In keeping with the theme on offense, the Buccaneers' starting offensive line is all but set. The battle lines will be drawn behind them, among the depth players.

Entering a season with doubts on the starting offensive line is rarely a good thing. The foundation of a good offensive line is cohesion and trust, and battles for starting spots delay a lines ability to build them.

Fortunately, the Bucs have established starters in all but one spot. Left tackle Donovan Smith and left guard Ali Marpet have been starters in Tampa Bay since their rookie season in 2015. 

Ryan Jensen is one of the best centers in the league and a tone-setter for the entire offense. Right guard Alex Cappa appears to have the trust of the coaching staff and has started 13 games last season, only missing three because of a broken arm. That bears repeating: Alex Cappa missed just three games with a broken arm.

The only new starter is right tackle and first-round pick Tristan Wirfs. His draft status alone ensures his spot on the starting line, but his athleticism and technique could make him the best player on the line, if not this year then down the line.

It all comes down to depth. Though the Bucs' starters are largely durable, they missed four games in total last season. Freak accidents are not uncommon with offensive linemen so the need for quality backups is paramount.

The one backup with an assured spot on the roster is newcomer Joe Haeg. The former Indianapolis Colt signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent this offseason on a one-year contract with $1.5 million guaranteed. His contract and history playing both tackle and guard indicate that he will be the Bucs' primary backup across the offensive line.

As Tampa carried four extra linemen last year, there are likely three spots up for grabs. T Josh Wells experience starting last year will make unseating him difficult, though not impossible. 

Wells didn't exactly blow anyone away when he filled in for Donovan Smith at left tackle. Former practice squad tackle Brad Seaton has an opportunity to slide into the other backup tackle position with a strong training camp performance.  

Guards Aaron Stinnie and Zack Bailey would be similarly stubborn but not wholly untouchable. Stinnie joined the Bucs midway through last season and Bailey was on the opening day roster before he went on injured reserve in October. Having experience practicing with the offense will help them, but they're far from untouchable.

The most experienced challenger is Anthony Fabiano, who has made the rounds on various NFL practice squads and also has some starting experience in the pros, particularly at center. 

Undrafted free agents John Molson, Zach Shackelford and Nick Leverett are very much dark horses. Molson was an excellent run-blocker for Boise State, playing left guard. Shackleford was a four-year starter at center for Texas, while Leverett played left tackle and left guard for Rice.

However, the guard battle would likely come down to which backup can best play left guard. Ali Marpet is likely Tampa's first choice to fill in at center should Ryan Jensen miss time with an injury, so an injury to Jensen or Marpet would require a backup to play left guard.

Though Stinnie and Bailey have an advantage with their experience with Tampa last season, the backup guard battle is anything but settled. Strong camp performances, in particular demonstrating consistency and discipline, could win one of the newcomers a roster spot heading into the regular season.