Photo credit: Zach Goodall, AllBucs.com
The Buccaneers starting five offensive linemen for the 2021 season are seemingly locked in, so long as guard Alex Cappa has fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered during the postseason. Cappa, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, and Tristan Wirfs are expected to pick up where they left off after allowing the fourth-fewest sacks in the NFL last year.
So, where does Tampa Bay's third-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, Robert Hainsey, fit in?
In head coach Bruce Arians' ideal world, Hainsey will serve as a capable backup to each of those five offensive linemen. Hainsey already has a considerable amount of experience playing tackle under his belt, which led the Bucs to move him inside to center during rookie mini-camp, Arians shared on Saturday.
"We’re going to train him so that he is ready to go just in case," Arians explained. "His position flexibility is amazing. He’s going to play five spots.
"Center is a totally different bird," Arians continued. "You learn the whole offense when you learn center – snapping the ball, especially when you’ve got [defensive tackle] Vita [Vea] and guys like that on you. That’s a little different challenge, so we’ll train him there."
Over his four-year career at Notre Dame, Hainsey logged a total of 2,646 offensive snaps. On each and every one of those plays, Hainsey aligned as a right tackle.
However, it's worth remembering the Notre Dame is "Offensive Line U," backed by the school's representation in the NFL Draft when it comes to offensive linemen. If any program prepares its linemen for the pros, where players are asked to move around as injuries pop up regularly, it's the Fighting Irish.
Hainsey proved that theory correct by not only impressing Arians over the two days of practice, but also when he slid to center for the first time of his career during January's Senior Bowl. Hainsey shared on Friday that he moved to the position on a whim once he got to Mobile, Ala. and has practiced it ever since, after performing well against fellow rising NFL talent.
"It's just new, it's something new for me," Hainsey remarked. "It's a new challenge, it's a new responsibility rather than playing right tackle. I get to learn more about the game and learn more about another position, and just have fun."
Hainsey credited two former college teammates, New Orleans Saints quarterback Ian Book and Chicago Bears center Sam Mustipher, for helping him throughout the transition. Book took part in the Senior Bowl with Hainsey and helped him learn to snap to a quarterback under center during the week.
"After that, I worked it every time I did any offensive line stuff," Hainsey said. "After pro day was when we got back into the O-line drills. Me, Tommy [Kraemer], Liam [Eichenberg], [Aaron] Banks, so I was working it leading up to this for sure."
It's a tough ask, particularly of a rookie, to develop into an NFL-caliber player at every position on the offensive line. Even perennial All-Pros would find themselves less comfortable at a different spot than where they normally dominate defensive linemen, much less four different alignments.
Arians is confident that Hainsey can handle at least four of those spots right now, though. And with thorough training this summer and into his NFL career, Arians believes Hainsey should soon be able to play all five positions on the offensive line.
"We know he can play tackle, we know he can play guard," Arians said. “I don’t think there is a position he can’t play. Whatever happens, barring injuries, he should be fine at a bunch of spots.”