Young Bucs at center vying to replace injured Jensen | Sport

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Center Ryan Jensen is expected to miss “significant time” with a knee injury, and second-year pro Robert Hainsey is hoping to make the most of an opportunity to earn a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The second-year pro spent his rookie season transitioning to a new position after playing at Notre Dame College Tech and is competing with another inexperienced lineman, Nick Leverett, for the open spot.

Jensen, a first-time Pro Bowl selection in 2021, was the first player the Bucks re-signed after Tom Brady retired in March. The 31-year-old center — in his fifth season with Tampa Bay, ninth overall — injured his left knee during practice on the second day of training camp.

“I don’t know the severity of it per se, but I know he’s going to miss some time — up to a couple of months,” coach Todd Bowles said. “Whether he comes back later in the season – in November or December – it depends on what they find in the knee. But it won’t be available anytime soon.”

While the Bucs discussed the possibility of acquiring a veteran to add to the lineup, Bowles emphasized that Hainsey and Leverett are capable young players.

“Both of them are very smart, both of them are very tough. It’s better to do it now than in the middle of the season so those guys can get some practice in and get ready for it,” Bowles said this week. “I think either of them will be fine.”

Hainsey was a third-round draft pick in 2021 and played 31 snaps over four games as a rookie — all with backup Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.

The 23-year-old said he learned a lot from watching Jensen drill and block for Brady last season. He feels even more comfortable with the transition to his new position after working out in Arizona this offseason with former NFL lineman and Bucs offensive assistant AQ Shipley.

“The way Ryan approaches every day and every game is that he’s the baddest dude on the field, and he usually is. … In a locker room and in an NFL locker room, I think that means something. And I think that commands a certain level of respect. He’s the kind of guy who won’t let anything get away with you,” Hainsey said.

“I’m not Ryan Jensen. That’s not who I’m trying to be. I have to be myself. But that chip on his shoulder that he plays with when I’m out there, I think I want to have a little bit of that myself because I owe it to him,” Hainsey added. “And whoever is there owes it to him to continue to be the type of person, the type of player that he is on the field.”

Bowles likes what he’s seen and notes that Hainsey has steadily improved since joining the team as the 95th pick in the draft.

“His film research is outstanding. He was a tough guy. He’s from Notre Dame, he’s very smart, he can see the defense, he can help the quarterback in that way. He can help the offensive line,” the coach said. “He’s diligent about it and wants to be good. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t come in and watch the tape. So it’s just a matter of getting it on tape and getting a chance to play it.”

Leverett, 25, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and spent this season on the practice squad learning to play several different positions. He appeared in two games as a backup quarterback last season.

Like Hainsey, he welcomes the task of competing for the job ahead of Brady, adding the experience numbers to make both candidates, as well as the Bucks, better.

“My attitude is to be the first one in and the last one out. My mindset is to be the hardest worker and compete with myself,” Leverett said. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me who the quarterback is, it’s more about being the best player I can be for my team and my teammates.”

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