TAMPA — Two months after the Pro Bowl left the superb retirement of guard Ali Marpet at 28, the tremor is now dissipating around the Bucs headquarters.
“I don’t mean shocked, but first a little surprised (at the announcement),” general manager Jason Licht said on Tuesday. “But now, knowing Ali and the conversations we had, (I) certainly understand and respect his decision.”
It was seismic news, however, and while the initial shock may have been absorbed, the fundamental crack resulting from that retirement — along with the departure of free agent Alex Cappa to the Bengals — needs to be repaired.
Marpet’s departure “has (affected the strategy) a bit; that’s why we went and traded for (veteran Patriots guard) Shaq Mason,” Licht said.
“And we feel really good that (replacement veteran) Aaron Stinnie has that playoff experience that he had when we won the Super Bowl. And (reserves) Nick Leverett, Robert Hainsey – we have some good players who we think did some good things early in their careers and there will be plenty of competition.
The question is, do the Bucs want to create more competition – and depth – along the interior offensive line? Besides adding Mason, will they select a guard – or a guard/center hybrid – with the 27th pick overall, or possibly in the second round?
If they do, they will have an attractive menu to choose from. Up to four types of child care centers are expected to participate in the first round in some important fictional drafts. Here are five prospects we think make the most sense for Tampa Bay:
1. Zion Johnson, Boston College
Measurable score: Led all offensive linemen with 32 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the NFL scouting combine
Less than a week before the draft, Johnson is still widely considered the guard’s best prospect. A former zero-star rookie who played his first two seasons at the Football Championship Subdivision Davidson, he allowed zero quarterback pressure in 2021 and one sack in 2,288 snaps at Boston College (according to ESPN Advanced Stats). With two degrees (computer science and cybersecurity), he met the Bucs in a formal interview at the combine.
2. Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
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Measurable score: Ran a 40-yard dash in 5.24 seconds at the NFL scouting combine (35th among 50 offensive linemen)
The most versatile guy on this list, Green started at four positions on the offensive line last season, playing left tackle in the Aggies’ 41-38 upset at Alabama. A first-team AP All-American and Lombardi Award finalist, he’s hailed as a dominant run blocker, which could make him attractive to a Bucs unit determined to run more efficiently.
3. Cole Strange, Chattanooga
Measurable score: Did 31 bench press reps out of 225 (one shy of Johnson) at NFL scouting combine
Licht’s history of unearthing offensive line gems in small schools (see Marpet, Cappa) could expand with this five-year starter. A student 4.0 graduate in psychology, Strange won the Southern Conference’s Jacobs Blocking Award last fall, then had an impressive Senior Bowl week and shone at the combine.
4. Dylan Parham, Memphis
Measurable score: NFL scouting combine 40-yard rush time (4.93 seconds) was third-best among centers and guards
One of the most seasoned players in the draft, Parham had 50 starts in college, 39 of them at right or left guard. As a redshirt senior in 2021, he allowed just two quarterback hits and didn’t give up a sack in 545 pass protection snaps. He officially met the Bucs – who love the versatility of their linemen – at the combine.
5. Sean Rhyan, UCLA
Measurable score: The three-cone drill (7.55 seconds) was eighth fastest among guards and centers in the NFL scouting combine
Rhyan started three years as a left tackle for the Bruins, who averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game in each of the past two years. He projects himself as a guard in the NFL, however, and was considered one of the top five draft prospects at that position by Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. If you’re looking for some sort of cosmic connection to Tampa Bay, he wears the same jersey number (74) as Marpet.
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