After spending the first two years of his career at right guard, Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet will be moving to center, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. Marpet performed very well for Tampa Bay last season, grading as the 13th-best guard in the league out of 71 qualifying players, per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required).
However, with guard J.R. Sweezy set to return after missing all of 2016 with a back injury, the Bucs are hoping Marpet’s success will continue at center. The team also has veteran centers Evan Smith and Joe Hawley on the roster, both of whom received $1MM bonuses in the offseason – and Hawley performed pretty well himself in 2016 – so it would be easy enough to simply line Sweezy up at left guard and keep Hawley and Marpet where they were last year. But the Bucs apparently have a different vision for the future of their line.
Marpet has snapped before and during practices in case he was ever called upon as an emergency center, but he never even played center in a high school or collegiate game, much less a professional one.
Nonetheless, the 2015 second-round pick out of D-III Hobart College is excited about the transition. He said, “I’m a center. It’s always been in the back pocket. I can still play guard. I know. I’ve played guard. I imagine they’re not saying ‘You’re the starter, no matter what you do.’ But they like the idea, so we’re going to try it.” He and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy believe he could be especially effective in the more confined spaces that a center is required to work in.
Tampa Bay’s line returns almost entirely intact from last season, and despite a couple of moving pieces, that consistency should be a boon to young signal-caller Jameis Winston and the offense as a whole in 2017.
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