National Football League
Bucs C Ryan Jensen gets emotional talking about toll of 2022 knee injury
National Football League

Bucs C Ryan Jensen gets emotional talking about toll of 2022 knee injury

Published Jul. 28, 2023 2:28 p.m. ET

Friday was the one-year anniversary of the knee injury that sidelined Ryan Jensen for nearly all of last season, and the Bucs center kept it together remarkably well talking about his long recovery.

That is, until he tried to talk about explaining it all to his son Wyatt, now 5.

"It was hard," Jensen said, pausing a minute and then embracing the emotion, tears and all. "When I came home after that day, having to explain that to him: 'Hey, Dad got hurt today. I might not be able to play football this year.' Ten minutes later, he's like, 'Can we go play?' and I'm like, 'I'm in a cast. I can't walk. I can't do this.' 

"So it was hard to walk through that, and see him broken-hearted for me. ... It was tough. It helped me see things in a different perspective."


Jensen's recovery was unusual, if not completely unique. Despite tearing the ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus in his left knee, he did not undergo surgery, opting for stem-cell therapy. His recovery was difficult both physically and emotionally, but he was able to return and play less than six months later for the Bucs' playoff game against the Cowboys, ultimately Tom Brady's final NFL game.

"It meant everything to me," said Jensen, who played every snap in the playoff loss. "It was a crazy road. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have played, but at the same time, I wanted to go out there, help the team and be out there with my guys. It was an honor to be able to be back out on the field, with Tom's last game. It was an honor to play with him and suit up one more time with him."

Six months later, Jensen doesn't regret playing that day and said his recovery had no setbacks as a result of playing. The Bucs are being careful in easing him back. Even in non-padded practices at the start of camp, Jensen has been limited and was held out of the second day entirely, again trusting a careful plan to get him ready for the start of the season in six weeks.

Jensen said there have been days when he cried much more than he did on the podium Friday, with Wyatt sitting in a chair to the side, watching his father as part of a day of camp set aside for players' families. Wyatt likes playing hockey and baseball, and when his father says he also likes football but will just play flag until eighth grade, Wyatt politely whispers "seventh grade" to correct him.

The 32-year-old Jensen was the veteran leader of the Bucs offensive line in their Super Bowl season in 2020, setting a physical tone with a reputation for protecting his teammates before and after the whistle. He made the Pro Bowl in 2021, and when Brady came out of retirement, the Bucs' next move was to re-sign Jensen to a multi-year extension. The knee injury cost him the entire regular season, and the offensive line wasn't the same, forcing Brady to get rid of the ball sooner out of survival instinct, taking away much of their deep-ball threat. 

Now Jensen is back healthy for his sixth season in Tampa — only five players have been with the team longer — and part of a revamped offensive line. All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs is now the left tackle, free-agent newcomer Matt Feiler is the new left guard, and rookie Cody Mauch is the new right guard, with second-year pro Luke Goedeke shifting from guard to right tackle. 

"I think we're going to be a bigger, physical offensive line ... a little bit thicker in the middle," Jensen said.

Last year's center, Robert Hainsey, now goes to being a top backup at center and guard, and the Bucs will be careful with Jensen, knowing how important his health and presence are to the line as a whole. Getting him back is a step toward getting the line closer to what Tampa won a championship with three years ago, so one year after his worst day, he's back setting the standard again.

"His toughness is unquestioned," coach Todd Bowles said last month. "He's a tone-setter. He'll go out there and he'll give you it right to the wall on every play. They kind of feed on that. ... He's one of our emotional leaders on the field, a very physical guy. He's very intelligent and has been down there for a long time."

Jensen says his knee is healed and healthy, and if his last appearance marked the end of something significant, his next one will help start a new era of Bucs football, surrounded by a much younger cast. He's excited about a new offense and a renewed commitment to running the ball consistently well, and his absence from football reminded him how much the sport means to him, and how other things can mean even more.

"In that moment, it brought me some clarity on what is truly important," he said. "Football is important, but family is everything."

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
National Football League
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ryan Jensen

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more