TAMPA – Just as you would have expected him to, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter settled on most of his 22 starters long before the Bucs ever took the field for what became their season opener Sunday against the Bears.
Most, but not all.
As it turns out, a position battle that no one saw coming when training camp first opened materialized at left guard as the preseason dragged on and it wasn’t until just before the opener that Koetter settled on a winner.
That winner, of course, was incumbent Kevin Pamphile, but Koetter admitted on Monday that the converted swing tackle came very close to starting the season on the bench as the backup to former starting center Evan Smith.
“We felt like both guys deserved to start,’’ Koetter said of Pamphile and Smith, who wound up splitting time at the position, where Smith slightly edged out Pamphile by getting onto the field for 38 plays while Pamphile was out there for 33.
Koetter said part of the decision to rotate the two players was based on the fact Pamphile missed some time late in the preseason due to an unspecified injury while Smith missed some time last week due to an illness.
Koetter said he was fearful both players would lack the conditioning necessary to play a full game so he opted to rotate them in an effort to keep them both fresh. As it stands now, though, there are no plans to keep the rotation going, at least not long-term.
“No, you’d prefer in the long run to go with five guys,’’ Koetter said. “But I also think there are circumstances like I just described that can over-ride that.’’
Given that Pamphile got the start on Sunday you would think he would continue to get the starts going forward, but Koetter didn’t name a starter and it seems he believes the Bucs can get the same type of performance out of both players.
“Both of those guys have played a lot of football for us,’’ Koetter said. “So we decided to roll them for this game and I’m not one bit sorry about that. That just helps build your depth for down the road.’’