The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered their first major injury in 2022 training camp when they lost Iron Man center Ryan Jensen this week to a serious and potentially season-ending knee injury.
The task of the team is to find a replacement for him in the squad, and there are two internal candidates left.
“It will be between [Robert] Hainsey and Nick Leverett right now,” Bucks head coach Todd Bowles said Friday.
In total, they have less than 100 snaps in the regular season. Hainsey, who was selected by Tampa Bay in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, appeared in nine games at the end of last season.
Leverett, who was not selected from the Rice in the 2020 draft class, appeared in two games last season, with most of his snaps coming as a substitute for the injured Aaron Stinney in the Bucks’ Week 12 win over the Colts last year.
“They both played it,” Bowles said. “It will be a tough fight. They are both very smart, both very cool. It’s better to do it now than in the middle of the season so these guys can get some practice reps and get ready for it. I think either one of them will be fine.”
The only starting center Tom Brady has worked with in Tampa, Jensen has started 81 consecutive games and missed just a handful of snaps in the last five seasons combined. As a free agent, both the Bengals and the Steelers showed interest in him, but he returned to Tampa on a three-year, $39 million off-season deal, including a guaranteed $23 million.
Interestingly, neither Hainsey nor Leverett played center in college. Hainsey was almost exclusively a right tackle with Notre Dame, while Leverett played mostly left tackle and left back with the Owls.
If you’re a Bucks fan and looking for the bright side, Brady has worked at a very high level in New England for many years with centers of similar or less impressive pedigree, starting with day threes like Dan Koppen, Brian Stork and Ted. Karras to undrafted players like Ryan Wendell and David Andrews.
While Bowles acknowledged that the team could seek help outside the organization to bolster its position, the first chance to jump into duty could be Hainsey, who saw limited action at center a year ago.
“His research on cinema is outstanding,” Bowles said of Heinsey. “He was a tough guy. He’s from Notre Dame, he’s very smart, he can see the defense, he can help the quarterback that way. He can help the offensive line. on the day he does not come and watch the cassette. So it’s just a matter of putting it on tape and being able to play it.”