TAMPA — When Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Evan Dietrich-Smith walked up to the line of scrimmage to deliver the first snap during offseason drills at One Buc Place last week, Oneil Cousins was on his left and Jamon Meredith was on his right.
They made up the interior of the first-team offensive line, but it’s doubtful that trio will be in place in a couple of months when the Bucs get to training camp and start playing for real.
Dietrich-Smith, signed in free agency, is all but locked in as the starting center, but the battle for starting spots at both guard positions is ongoing. And that battle will likely continue well into training camp, if not beyond.
“It’s a competition, and that’s not just coach talk,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Where you are right now or what group you’re with, we haven’t done enough” to determine who will start.
“You can’t really get a true depth chart until you see someone or you see us go full speed, and I’m talking about in pads. At this point, a lot of what the depth chart is based on is what guys know as much as anything.”
The most notable change likely will occur at left guard, where the Bucs remain hopeful former Pro Bowler Carl Nicks can return to form after missing the better part of the last two years with foot injuries and a MRSA infection.
If that happens, it could lead to a change at right guard. Though Meredith started 12 games there two years ago for the Bucs, he is facing a challenge from second-year pro Patrick Omameh.
Omameh played right guard with the first unit while Meredith backed up at left guard during the Bucs’ first minicamp this offseason. He was backing up Meredith on the right side Tuesday.
Theirs is a battle that is likely to continue throughout the offseason, and it’s possible that Cousins and rookie Kadeem Edwards could enter the fray as well should Nicks come back and fill the hole at left guard.
“Jamon has been around here for a while, so he’s lining up with the 1s right now,’’ Smith said. “But it’s a competition, and I always tell the guys that they should only be concerned if they’re not getting any reps.’’