Tampa Bay lost rookie offensive lineman Calvin Ashley during the first week of training camp and quickly signed Chidi Okeke for depth to protect quarterback Tom Brady.
The Buccaneers waived Ashley, a rookie tackle from Florida A&M, on Thursday after he suddenly left the team. Tampa then added Okeke, a recent Miami Dolphins practice squad tackle, later that day according to Buccaneers.com’s Scott Smith. Ashley joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in May. A Nigeria native, Okeke spent the 2019 season Dolphins practice squad after entering the league as an undrafted free agent that year from Tennessee State.
Okeke notably will take Ashley’s jersey number, 68, per Greg Auman of The Athletic.
Tampa’s front office didn’t offer a reason why Ashley left. He opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 per Sports Illustrated’s All Bucs. He has significant size at 6-7, 330 pounds, and he started his college career at Auburn as a five-star recruit in 2017.
Ashley played five games for Auburn in 2018 before transferring down to Group of Five school Florida Atlantic and then to Florida A&M, an FCS school. He played seven games in 2019 for the Rattlers.
Okeke also played for an FCS school but found his way onto the Dolphins practice squad after getting cut by the Washington Football Team and Kansas City Chiefs in 2019. He notably played high school football for two years after moving to the U.S. in 2013.
His high school success led to LSU in 2015 as a redshirt freshman, and he played in 11 games on special teams for the Tigers in 2016. Okeke transferred to TSU in 2017 and started on the offensive line in 10 games. He also started all nine of TSU’s games in 2018 and helped the team average 431.3 yards per game according to TSU sports information.
Auman noted the Okeke played with Bucs running back Leonard Fournette at LSU in 2016.
Bucs Returning All Starting Offensive Linemen
Brady will have plenty of familiar faces blocking for him this season with all of the team’s starting offensive linemen back.
The Bucs became the first Super Bowl-winning team to return all 22 starters from the previous season since the 1979 Oakland Raiders. Tampa had a strong season from rookie Tristan Wirfs, and Alex Cappa drew serious Pro Bowl interest. Cappa got injured in the playoffs, but Aaron Stinnie stepped in for the star guard.
Brady had a strong year behind the Bucs offensive line in 2020 with his best touchdown total since 2007, his highest passing yards total since 2015, and his best completion percentage since 2018. He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns while completing 65.7 percent of his passes.
Throwing downfield didn’t take a hit for Brady either in 2020 per Pro Football Focus.
Another Bucs Rookie Offensive Lineman Impresses at Camp
Bucs coaches have rookie Robert Hainsey from Notre Dame playing everywhere on the offensive line in practices according to WFLA’s Karen Loftus.
“It’s awesome,” Hainsey said per Loftus. “I really enjoy it. It’s definitely new for me. I mean it was new, but after a couple months of a lot of reps, I’m enjoying it. With all the older guys here, now I get to learn a lot from all those guys. I’m having a great time.”
Tampa’s third-round draft pick, Hainsey mainly played tackle for the Irish but his versatility quickly stood out. Auman and Dane Brugler of The Athletic highlighted that after the Bucs picked the former Florida high school standout.
“One thing is I’m a pretty good size for all three (positions),” Hainsey said per Loftus. “I can kick out to tackle. I know I can play tackle if I need to. Moving inside is obviously something I’ve done just starting this past year and I’m enjoying that. Just physically I know I can do all three. Especially playing center, I’m learning all the positions. I have to know everyone’s jobs. That’s been something I’ve been trying to learn a lot and focus on a lot. So now if I did have to play any guard or tackle then I know exactly what I need to do.”