Sixth-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet always believed his team could get to a Super Bowl, even amid losing seasons.
“It’s kind of crazy. I think coming in 2015 with Donovan [Smith], (and) some of those other guys, you really get to have playoffs and Super Bowl in our head,” Marpet said in Wednesday’s press conference. “We were 2-14 before we got here, and we were like, ‘we’re going to turn this thing around, we’re going to dominate, we’re going to get to the playoffs — and gosh, it is hard to get here.”
Part of the Bucs’ 2015 rookie class with former Bucs quarterback and No. 2 draft pick Jameis Winston, Marpet endured five losing seasons with the Bucs. Marpet didn’t balk at resigning with the Bucs when his rookie contract expired despite the team being amid a 13-year playoff drought. He stuck around with many key Bucs starters such as Smith, Mike Evans, and Lavonte David who began their careers in Tampa.
“Ever since I’ve been here, there’s been a whole lot of talent,” Marpet said. “We’re kind of finally putting it together. I think the scouting department has crushed it. I think there’s a lot of good, young talent on the team, so It’s exciting.”
“I think because it’s been so hard, it makes it this moment that much more precious if you will,” he added. “I feel real grateful for being here, and it’s been a grind to get here.”
Marpet grinded just to become a Buc, coming from an NCAA Division III program in New York.
“Back to the Hobart [College] days, I would have never thought I would have been in this position, so I feel real grateful for that,” Marpet said.
When future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady signed with the Bucs and a host of talented players such as longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski followed him to Tampa, it elevated the team but didn’t make winning automatic.
The Bucs’ inconsistent play left them at 7-5 following a 27-24 November loss to their eventual Super Bowl opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. Tampa righted the ship after a late-season bye week and haven’t lost since.
“I think with these things it takes a lot of guys being on the same page and doing it over and over again,” Marpet said. “I think that’s what we’ve done.”
Marpet anticipates matching up with Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones again in the Super Bowl. Jones posted 7.5 sacks and 36 tackles this season, he but didn’t get to Brady in November.
“He’s a really good player, and the defense is really good, and they play at a really high level,” Marpet said. “We’re going to have to play very, very well as a front, and I think that we’re capable of doing better than we did last time.”
Marpet plays alongside star rookie lineman Tristan Wirfs, who produced a solid first season thus far.
Pro Football Focus noted the Wirfs had a monster NFC playoff run, not allowing any pass rusher to get to Brady from his spot.
Rookies and younger players besides Wirfs stepping up bolstered the Bucs thus far. Second-year defensive backs Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting both made big defensive plays along the way as did rookie Antoine Winfield Jr.
“In order to have this much success, you need the young guys to step up, and those guys really have,” Marpet said. “They’ve taken it real seriously, and they’ve led from the front as young guys, and that’s what’s really important.”
Bucs Lineman Ring Collection
First-year Bucs offensive lineman Joe Haeg has almost as many championship rings, five, as Brady has — only NCAA Division I rings instead of Super Bowl ones.
Haeg, who signed with the Bucs in 2020 after four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, played for five-consecutive Football Championship Subdivision national championship teams at North Dakota State from 2011 to 2015. He blocked for NFL quarterbacks Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles and Easton Stick of the Los Angeles Chargers when they played together at NDSU.
Haeg played a key role in blocking for the Bucs in a 30-20 Divisional Round win at New Orleans on Jan. 17. It aided the running game, in particular, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said per Sports Illustrated’s All Bucs.
“The last time we played them, our tight ends struggled with these big guys. Joe Haeg did a great job and Gronk did a great job also,” Arians said per All Bucs.