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Bucs' Tristan Wirfs determined to excel at left tackle: 'I have very high expectations'
National Football League

Bucs' Tristan Wirfs determined to excel at left tackle: 'I have very high expectations'

Updated Jun. 6, 2023 2:51 p.m. ET

TAMPA, Fla. — The day after the Bucs' season ended, Pro Bowl right tackle Tristan Wirfs sat down with coach Todd Bowles and was told that the team was probably moving him to left tackle.

It had always been a possibility, even a logical move, with Wirfs a dominant force on the right side of the line and the Bucs deciding to move on from Donovan Smith, their starter at left tackle for the previous eight years. And now, as Wirfs goes through offseason workouts at a new position this spring, it's important for him to attend even voluntary workouts to ease his transition to the other side.

He's only 24 and has already been a first-team All-Pro selection. He's also a two-time Pro Bowler who played every snap of a Super Bowl championship season as a rookie protecting Tom Brady. Knowing how good he's been on the right side, how often does he wonder if he'll be able to match that success on the left?

"Every day," Wirfs said Tuesday after an OTA practice ahead of next week's mandatory minicamp. "I have very high expectations of myself. I don't want to let anybody else down, so it's just doing my best to keep those thoughts positive, to kind of just take every day as an opportunity to get better. I think about that all day, every day."


Wirfs has played left tackle before — out of 33 career games at Iowa, he started four on the left side, including three his final year in 2019. But every snap he's played in three NFL seasons and 52 games has been at right tackle, so he's going from an extremely high comfort level to the uncertainty of training his body to work as a mirror image of what he's known.

"I've had thousands of reps on the right side, and I'm going in as a newborn baby on the left," said Wirfs, who will be adjusting everything from his weight placement to which hands he's throwing against an oncoming pass-rusher. "It's all different. It's so similar. You're doing the same stuff, but it's all flipped."

The Bucs gave up an NFL-low 22 sacks last season, but that was very much a function of Brady getting rid of the ball quickly, sometimes at the expense of downfield passing in favor of his own survival at age 45. The Bucs will have either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask at quarterback this fall, both much younger and more mobile than Brady, but are presented with a new challenge due to there being potentially three new starters in five spots.

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Tampa Bay released Smith and replaced him with Wirfs, and second-year lineman Luke Goedeke is the favorite to take over at right tackle after playing mostly at left guard last year. Center Ryan Jensen is back after missing the entire regular season with a knee injury, and right guard Shaq Mason was traded to the Texans, which could mean rookie Cody Mauch starts there.

Wirfs is listed at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, and he'll have another big body next to him at left guard in veteran Matt Feiler, signed in free agency and bringing his 6-6, 330-pound frame to the line.

"Matt's huge," Wirfs said. "It's been great. Getting an offensive line to jell, I think, is the biggest thing, and to get as many reps as you can playing next to the guy you're going next to is huge. Getting those early reps together has been awesome."

The Bucs are also working to improve their running game, which ranked last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per carry last year, so the line will be central in those efforts as well. Tampa Bay hired Seattle assistant Dave Canales as their new offensive coordinator, a first-time playcaller, but the early reviews have been favorable after last year's offense disappointed under Byron Leftwich.

"He's had an unbelievable attitude with it," offensive line coach Joe Gilbert said of Wirfs' transition. "Every day, he looks better and better, more comfortable. Obviously, that's going to be a process, but I think so far, it's coming along very well."

If Wirfs can succeed in his transition to left tackle, it will only add to a huge payday ahead for him in his first contract extension. The Bucs have exercised his fifth-year option for the 2024 season, which will pay him $18.2 million, and he'll make even more than that in a potential new deal. He'll command a contract that makes him one of the league's highest-paid tackles (if not the highest), which will mean close to the $25 million a year just signed by the Texans and Laremy Tunsil.

For now, Wirfs has a new challenge, learning a new position and helping keep the Bucs at a competitive level despite losing Brady to retirement. They've won their division in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history, and doing it again won't be easy, but Wirfs will be a key part of that effort.

"He's still big as hell," outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka said Tuesday of facing Wirfs in practice. "He's going to be all right. He's going to be straight. For him, you know, it's definitely a mental thing, but he's still massive."

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.

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