TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tristan Wirfs knows he has a critical role to play in helping Tom Brady transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into winners. The rookie is undaunted by the challenge of preparing for the task without the benefit of a normal preseason.
The former Iowa star was the 13th pick in this year’s NFL draft, addressing the need to bolster an offensive line responsible for protecting the team’s 43-year-old quarterback and opening holes for what has a chance to be an improved rushing attack.
Although Wirfs, 21, is expected to be an immediate starter at right tackle, he concedes he and other first-year players have a lot of ground to cover in training camp. They must get up to speed after not being able to participate in a full offseason program due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And with preseason games also eliminated, the Bucs won’t line up against anyone in opposing jerseys until the club’s scheduled regular-season opener at New Orleans on Sept. 13.
“We missed out on 400 or 500 live reps of plays, so just trying to make that up as best we can is going to be really huge for us,” Wirfs said, adding he’s not overly concerned about potentially being at a disadvantage entering his first season.
“I don’t really know how much different it’ll be for me coming from college. We didn’t really have preseason games. We just had camp and then started playing. They were non-conference, but still,” the 6-foot-5, 320-pound tackle said.
“This time around, I know we have some good pass rushers on the Bucs, so just getting some work in with them and doing the best I can,” Wirfs added. “If the case is that I’m going against (Saints defensive end) Cam Jordan, I’ll be excited and just give it my best.”
Tampa Bay traded up one spot in the draft to ensure an opportunity to select Wirfs, a dominant blocker in college who continued to impress at the NFL scouting combine. He had the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.85 seconds) among linemen and set a record for his position in the vertical jump (36½ inches).
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said linemen probably are the players most affected by not having a normal offseason of work.
“I think both lines of scrimmage, the offensive line and defensive line not being able to work on pad level,” Arians said. “We’re going to have 14 days in pads. That is not a lot of time to get ready to play in a ballgame against really quality opponents, but we’re going to have to get it done.”
At Iowa, Wirfs became only the second true freshman to start a game at tackle under long-time Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz. Now, he’s unfazed by the prospect of stepping right in with the Bucs, who’ve missed the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons — the second-longest drought in the NFL behind Cleveland, which hasn’t earned a berth since 2002.
“That’s kind of how my college career started. I was kind of just tossed in there. It happening this way, at this level, I’d be all right with it. I’ve just got to go out there and do my best – that’s all I can ask of myself,” Wirfs said.
“You’ve got to prepare every week and come out and execute. That’s really what it comes down to,” he added. “If that’s the case where I have to get tossed in there, then so be it. I’ll be as ready as I can be and give it my all.”
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