The Bucs will maintain continuity on their offensive line this Sunday when they take on the Browns in Cleveland. Head coach Todd Bowles told the media on Wednesday that Nick Leverett will get his fourth straight start at left guard.
Leverett took over the left guard position in Week 8, playing in place of rookie Luke Goedeke, who has been dealing with a foot injury. The 2022 second-round pick returned to practice on Wednesday, but Bowles said that he’s still working his way back to 100%.
“Well this is Luke’s first day, he’s got to get acclimated,” Bowles said. “It’s his first day of him in pads, so we’ll see as time goes by. Right now, we’re planning on starting Leverett – Luke isn’t ready right now, it’s his first day back in pads.”
There’s no doubt that the Bucs have gotten better play out of Leverett over the last three games than they were getting from Goedeke in the first seven. But Bowles said after the team’s Week 10 win over the Seahawks that there was still evaluation to be done once the rookie recovers from his injury.
“Luke is still hurt right now,” Bowles said on Nov. 14. “There are more games to play, obviously. We like what [Leverett’s] doing right now. Nick has always been tough and physical for us – he played a big part in the run game yesterday. We’ll evaluate when Luke comes back, but [Nick’s] playing great right now. He’s earned an opportunity to play.”
Goedeke Faces A Tough Road Back To Reclaiming His Starting Role
It would be quite the stunner if Goedeke reassumes the starting left guard spot even when he’s fully healthy. The rookie was certainly tested by an onslaught of Pro Bowl defensive tackles throughout his first stretch of play in the NFL. But he has struggled heavily, as evidenced by his 41.5 grade from Pro Football Focus. He has just a 34.5 pass blocking grade to go with a slightly better 49.1 run blocking grade. The pure numbers aren’t any kinder to him, given that he’s allowed two sacks, three hits, 17 hurries and 22 pressures in seven games.
That’s not going to cut it for a team that is trying to establish itself in a good playoff position down the stretch. It doesn’t mean the 24-year-old can’t develop into a good pro, but it appears clear that he’s not ready just yet.
Leverett, on the other hand, has been a major upgrade since stepping in on Oct. 27 against the Ravens. He has yet to allow a sack in four games this season, and he’s only given up one hit, one hurry and two pressures. His Pro Football Focus grade is a solid 64.3, with a particularly strong 77.4 pass blocking grade. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has simply looked better with the former undrafted free agent in the game next to left tackle Donovan Smith and center Robert Hainsey.
Bucs QB Brady: “Everyone Has A Lot Of Confidence In Nick”
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was asked about Leverett during his Wednesday press conference, and he had glowing praise for his left guard.
“Yeah, he’s done a good job,” Brady said. “Certainly the communication’s really important, he does a good job of that. He kind of has a little bit of a center background to him. Everyone has a lot of confidence in Nick. He goes in and he fights his tail off. That’s all you can ask for, and everyone loves having him in there. He’s working really well with ‘Donnie’ [Smith]working really well with ‘Hains’ (Robert Hainsey) and he’s done a great job.”
Over the first seven games this season, comfort in the pocket was hard to come by for Brady. But as of late, he looks more confident hanging in there. Improved play from Smith against Seattle in Week 10 was a big help, but some of that credit can be attributed to Leverett as well.
The Bucs’ 45-year-old quarterback had one of his best games of the season against the Seahawks and the offense put up more big plays than it’s had in any other game this season. There were multiple reasons for the return of big plays in that game, but Leverett and the offensive line giving Brady more time was certainly a big one.
It remains to be seen what will happen when Goedeke is available to return. But the Bucs should be sticking with Leverett down the stretch. He’ll have a chance to further prove his case on Sunday when Tampa Bay takes on 3-7 Cleveland.