When Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen became the first significant NFL camp casualty of 2022, names of potential replacements began to be suggested. The Bucs, who won’t have Jensen back until November or December (if at all), intend for now to go with the next man up.
First, they have to figure out which man it will be.
“It will be between [Robert] Hainsey and Nick Leverett right now,” coach Todd Bowles told reporters on Friday. “Both of them have played it. It will be a tough battle going in. Both of them are very smart, both are very tough. It’s better to happen now than in the middle of the season so these guys can get some practice reps and prepare for it. I think either one of them will be fine.”
Bowles admitted that the team has at least discussed the possibility of finding someone who isn’t currently on the roster.
“There’s been discussions but not heavy discussions,” Bowles said. “We’ll see what’s out there and we’ll see what fits us. If we need to bring somebody in, we will.”
Bowles then went on to praise Hainsey. a third-round pick in 2021.
“His film study is outstanding,” Bowles said. “He’s been a tough guy. He comes from Notre Dame, he’s very smart, he can see defenses, he can help the quarterback that way. He can help the offensive line. He’s diligent about it and he wants to be good. There’s not a day he doesn’t come in and watch tape. So it’s just a matter of putting it on tape and getting a chance to play.”
Hainsey (on the right in the attached photo) had limited work at center as a rookie.
“I think I played in four games last year,” Hainsey told reporters. “One in the preseason and then four in the season at the end. You know, each one was better, honestly. First one was Miami and I remember coming off and Blaine [Gabbert] way saying ‘Communicate more.’ And then the next was better and a little better and a little better. Obviously, it wasn’t as much as I would have loved to play, but noticing myself improving still makes a huge difference in how I feel going out there anytime. So having said that and feeling how I feel throughout this summer and the start of camp, I feel, like I said, prepared and ready.”
Leverett (on the left in the photo) joined the team in 2020 as an undrafted free agent. He acknowledged that his competitor for the spot has gotten a lot better during his time in the NFL.
“Substantially,” Leverett told reporters. “The guy is so smart. That’s what makes us close because we are deep in our playbook, we go at it. We compete in a good way with each other to make each other better. That’s a guy who I’ve seen when he first got here. Just to see the level of growth that he’s had is crazy. Honestly, he’s one of the smartest guys in the room, if not the smartest.”
That all sounds great, but here’s the inescapable reality. If the Buccaneers had so much faith in Hainsey and Leverett at center, why didn’t they let Jensen take a reported three-year, $39 million offer from the Bengals in March?
The easy answer likely is that quarterback Tom Brady, who’ll soon be 45, preferred not to have a 23-year-old snapping him the ball. Now, unless Brady decides he wants someone else (and his preferences surely will be a significant factor in the final decision), he will.