The Buccaneers have an offensive line problem and it’s a problem many teams wish they had as well.
Entering the season, many voiced their concerns for the offensive line of Tampa Bay. TheBayCave.com was actually more worried about how the defensive line would perform than their linemates on the other side of the ball. So after five weeks and a couple injuries within that time, they face a dilemma on whether to break up the recent success of the offensive front.
After starting center Evan Smith went down because of an ankle injury against New Orleans, former Atlanta Falcons lineman Joe Hawley has stepped in and played better than expected.
His shotgun snaps are quick and directly at rookie quarterback Jameis Winston where much of the frustration with Smith was in that category of snaps. In the blocking game, Hawley has done well offering assistance in picking up guys that the interior may have issues with. He has been seen helping out rookie lineman Ali Marpet with blocks in the passing game. And in the run game, Hawley has also performed extremely well as the bulk of Tampa Bay’s rushing yards against Jacksonville was up the middle.
He has also helped keep Winston up in the pocket. In the first two games, Winston was sacked seven times. In the last three games, Winston has been sacked four time.
But it remains unclear as to what the future hold at the position.
“I’m sure Evan could play guard if we needed him to play,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said on Wednesday. “I don’t really see it as an issue. Both those guys are quality starting centers in the NFL. It will work itself out as Coach Smith said, when the day comes when we have them both available, they are both healthy, they are both 100 percent then Coach will have to make that call.”
Hawley has passed the eye test and the offensive line seems like it has improved since Smith’s absence. That is no knock on the former Green Bay Packer veteran, but it’s evident the line has seen lots of improvement with Hawley starting.
Friday morning, per several media reports, Winston was under center receiving snaps from Hawley at practice. If that is a precursor to who is starting on Sunday, then head coach Lovie Smith made the right move by starting Hawley against Washington.