National Football League
New Bucs LG Matt Feiler key to team's revamped offensive line
National Football League

New Bucs LG Matt Feiler key to team's revamped offensive line

Published Jun. 16, 2023 11:51 a.m. ET

Most Bucs fans don't know new left guard Matt Feiler well, and if you're trying to appreciate what he'll bring to a new-look offensive line, one play from last season will do the trick.

The 30-year-old was playing for the Chargers, who were tied 17-17 with the Falcons with a minute left, having rallied from a 10-point deficit. The Falcons had used their last time out with 46 seconds left, and Los Angeles was at the Atlanta 22, in position to run down the clock for a game-winning field goal.

But the Falcons forced a fumble from Austin Ekeler, and Atlanta's Ta'Quon Graham scooped up the loose ball and took off, picking up enough ground that Atlanta could go after a last-second kick to win. But the ball popped out for a rare double fumble, and 25 yards upfield, trying to chase down the defender, the 330-pound Feiler fell on the fumble, his quiet hustle giving the ball back to the Chargers.

Two plays later, the Chargers kicked a field goal to win — and the outcome ended up making life easier for the Bucs, who would win a division title with one more victory than those Falcons.


"That's Matt," Bucs offensive line coach Joe Gilbert said Thursday after the final practice of minicamp. "Probably didn't say anything or nothing. He's been a pleasure to have here."

Tampa Bay's offensive line has change all over it, tasked with improving the run game and a disappointing offense while also shedding salary as a result of difficult salary-cap constraints. Doing more with less isn't easy, but a big part of that will be Feiler, who has averaged 14 starts over the past five years and signed with the Bucs on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

"We get to make our own story, rebuilding. We have to put it on ourselves to make it a good story," Feiler said Thursday of the offensive line's importance in the Bucs' upcoming season.

If you were casting a Bucs offensive linemen, Feiler fits the mold in so many ways. Much of this offensive line is either small-school standouts or late-round/undrafted types, and Feiler is both. He played at Division II Bloomsburg in his native Pennsylvania, went undrafted in 2015 and spent two years on the Texans' practice squad, then got cut by the Steelers in his third year. He made it back on the practice squad, got promoted for his first snaps and a single start, and since 2018, he has been a starter every year.

He was a starting tackle with the Steelers and a starting guard the past two years with the Chargers, and he was quickly anointed the starting left guard in Tampa as part of a new-look line. Left tackle Donovan Smith, due to make $16 million, was released, and right guard Shaq Mason, due to make $8 million, was traded to the Texans. All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs is taking over at left tackle, second-year pro Luke Goedeke is moving to right tackle, rookie Cody Mauch is the guy to beat at right guard and Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen will be back after missing nearly all of last season with a serious knee injury.

The Bucs could have gone with one of two young backups elevated into starting roles last season in Nick Leverett or Robert Hainsey, but more than a month into free agency, they chose Feiler's experience as a priority in their limited free-agent budget. With their big-dollar departures and budget additions, the Bucs now rank 31st out of 32 teams in offensive-line spending by the average annual value of their contracts.

Feiler has been a constant at voluntary OTA workouts, he and Wirfs getting used to each other as everyone learns a new offense under first-year coordinator Dave Canales.

"I feel like I fit right in, right from the start," said Feiler, his brown beard not quite as bushy as he embraces the Florida heat and humidity. "All the concepts carry over, but I feel like I'm picking up on the playbook and the terminology pretty easily."

The Bucs' new line will be appreciably bigger than last year's, especially on the left side. Wirfs is listed at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. Feiler is 6-foot-6, 330, and Jensen is 6-foot-4, 319. Mauch comes in at 6-foot-6 and 303, five inches taller than Mason was at right guard. 

"That left side is a big side. It's funny, seeing on film me lining up next to Tristan and he makes me look small when I get in my stance," Feiler said. "Tristan and I have a few weeks under our belts already together, so I feel like we're on the same page."

As Tampa Bay works to improve on a run game that ranked last in the league in yards per game and yards per carry, the size up front will be part of the confidence in faring better on the ground.

"Come the fourth quarter, big stays big," Gilbert said. "Over time, you're running the ball and you're big, you get a chance to wear people down, coming and coming again in the second half, and hopefully we can take advantage of that."

With the retirement of Tom Brady, the Bucs will be turning to either veteran Baker Mayfield or third-year pro Kyle Trask at quarterback, and Canales has made it clear he wants a more balanced offense, using the run to set up the passing game, something the Bucs weren't consistent in doing last year. 

There's excitement around second-year running back Rachaad White, and Feiler could have his first 1,000-yard rusher to block for. He has come close three times, with Pittsburgh's James Conner getting 973 in 2018 and Ekeler getting 911 and 915 the past two years with the Chargers.

"He gets it," Gilbert said. "You've gotta love his size and what he adds. He's sharp, he understands the system, he's very well-respected by the younger guys. Everything's been very positive."

The idea of a run-first mentality is welcome to Feiler, like everything he has found in Tampa so far.

"Offensive linemen in general like to hear that," Feiler said. "Anytime you can dictate the tempo of the game and keep the game on your terms with your run game, it helps the passing game out."

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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