At 6-foot-5, 298 pounds and sporting a resume that includes 10 playoff starts and a Super Bowl title, the sixth-year pro adds size and valuable experience to a young offensive line charged with protecting Jameis Winston.
Coaches and teammates say the 2012 seventh-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks also owns a nasty disposition that Tampa Bay lacked on the O-line a year ago, when Sweezy signed a $32 million deal in free agency but never even made it to the practice field.
“It was the hardest year of my life, just not to play football and be with a new team. It’s pretty much the worst possible scenario,” Sweezy said.
“But it taught me a lot about patience and I got to spend a lot of time with my daughter,” the 28-year-old added. “She was born last year, so it was a blessing in disguise. I’m just glad to be back.”
The Bucs are just excited about finally getting Sweezy on the field during OTAs (organized team activities) and this week’s mandatory three-day minicamp that concludes Thursday.
The other projected starters on the offensive line are another 2015 second-round draft pick, Donovan Smith at left tackle; 2014 draft pick Kevin Pamphile at left guard, and ninth-year Demar Dotson at right tackle.
“It can be one of the very best offensive lines in the NFL. It’s very, very possible,” Sweezy said. “We’re working on cohesion, guys moving in, Ali moving to center. We can be one of the best.”
The Bucs felt good enough about the prospect of Sweezy recovering from a back injury that they didn’t address the need for help on the offensive line in this spring’s draft.
Instead, coach Dirk Koetter and general manager Jason Licht envision moving Marpet to center and inserting Sweezy to the third-year pro’s right, giving the club an opportunity to be significantly better up front than a year ago.
“When people say we didn’t address the line … I mean, we were real excited about what J.R. would bring to the group last year,” Koetter said.
“In his 50-something starts in Seattle, he was an extremely physical player. For our fans that haven’t seen him, he’s a bigger, stronger version of Joe Hawley, the way he plays,” the coach added. “I know our fans like the way Joe plays; I think they’re going to like the way J.R. plays as well. He’s going to bring a physical presence to the center of our line.”
Teammates have noticed, too, even though players are limited in what they can do physically while practicing in shorts during the offseason.
Asked to describe his on-field personality, Sweezy suggested he’s simply a player who works and wants to win.
“I’ve got my teammates’ backs. So when we go to play, whatever happens happens. I’ve got their back and they’ve got mine,” Sweezy said. “We’re going to do what it takes to get the ‘W.’
Smith, meanwhile, offered another take.
“He’s mean. He’s mean,” the third-year left tackle said, repeating himself to emphasize his point. “He’s a fun guy, quiet. But on the field, you see it.”