TAMPA — When Ali Marpet is not strumming his ukulele under a palm tree on the beach, he's in the film room studying the defensive fronts of the Bucs' next opponent. His move from guard to center has been the singular biggest change to the offensive line, which has played in near perfect concert with Marpet.
Next to Marpet is right guard J.R. Sweezy, who spent last season on injured reserve recovering from a herniated disc. In this band of brothers, if Marpet does the strings, Sweezy is in charge of the percussion as a thumping run blocker.
At left guard, Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith have been job sharing. Both can play, and the split will continue until one clearly proves to be better.
The tackles are Donovan Smith, who has not missed a snap in going on three seasons, and Demar Dotson, who is playing better than any of his linemates in his ninth season.
General manager Jason Licht was heavily scrutinized for not addressing the offensive line in the draft this year. But despite the Bucs' 2-2 record, the blockers are playing about as well as any unit in the league.
"There's a ton of teams that have problems injury-wise," coach Dirk Koetter said. "There's several teams in the league playing with multiple backups, and we feel like we've got good depth on the offensive line. For the New England game (the Bucs' last game, Oct. 5), our offensive line graded out pretty high."
The Bucs have allowed 32 pressures on 167 pass plays for the second-highest pass-blocking efficiency rating in the NFL, 85.2, statistics website Pro Football Focus said. QB Jameis Winston has been sacked an average of 1.8 times per game, which is seventh-best in the league.
In his ninth season, Dotson ranks third among tackles with an overall grade of 86.5, Pro Football Focus said, and his pass-blocking grade of 87.2 is second in the league.
What has been the difference this season?
"Cut down on mental errors significantly," Koetter said. "It starts with that and everybody is on the same page."
Having bigger bodies, like the ones belonging to Marpet and Sweezy, has created a cleaner pocket for Winston. But what all offensive linemen want to do is run the ball. The Bucs' linemen are excited to welcome back Doug Martin, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry in his season debut against the Patriots.
"Football is really a simple game," Marpet said. "You want to run the ball and just impose you will on the guy in front of you."
Go West, Young Bucs
There was a time when the Bucs couldn't win anywhere, much less on the West Coast. Tampa Bay lost its first 26 straight games there to start the franchise.
But a year ago, westward no became westward ho. After losing at Arizona, the Bucs had wins at San Francisco and San Diego.
The Bucs face the Cardinals in Arizona today.
Because of the three-time-zone difference, the Bucs travel for games in the West on Friday. But they try to keep their body clocks on Eastern time.
"We will try to basically stay on East Coast time," Koetter said. "That's a system that's worked. I learned it from (defensive coordinator Mike Smith), who learned it from (former Ravens coach) Brian Billick in his day. We believe in it. But … it's not the system that does it. It's the players that are going to determine what works and what doesn't."
"I'm going to put words in his mouth now. He was a little bit bitter, and rightfully so. No one likes to lose their position because of injury, especially an injury that happens in a training session, not on the field."
— Coach Dirk Koetter, on K Patrick Murray, whose ACL injury cost him his job in his first Bucs stint