When Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Robert Hainsey decided to train for eight weeks in Arizona this offseason with former Buccaneers assistant A.Q. Shipley, he thought he was working to compete for the left guard spot—which at the time was the only hole on the Tampa Bay offensive line.
Just a couple days into training camp, everything changed.
Center Ryan Jensen suffered a severe knee injury—one that could keep him out for the season, though the team is still waiting for definitive results that will tell them for sure. It left a gaping hole this time, not just on the line but for the whole offense. And suddenly, all eyes were on Hainsey.
“Last time you saw me I was in a completely different mindset,” Hainsey said on Monday, referring to the two days I spent with him and Shipley, learning the ins and outs of Hainsey’s training regimen. “But, you know, move on, roll with the punches and kind of be ready for whatever. You saw what I was doing out there. I’m ready. I’m prepared. I’m confident in my abilities.”
Hainsey spent his rookie season last year learning the center spot. Shipley was on staff then and became almost his personal coach. Who better to learn from than a guy who played 12 years in the league at the position, after all? A right tackle at Notre Dame, Hainsey first tried out the center role at the 2021 Senior Bowl. He held up and Tampa Bay drafted him to potentially be Jensen’s successor… they just didn’t realize it would end up happening so soon.
“I just felt so terrible for Ryan because I know what it’s like to have [a bad] injury like that,” Hainsey said. “Everything he’s done for the team, it’s hard to watch a guy like that go down. He’s the catalyst. He’s ‘that guy’. He’s that tough S.O.B. that’s going to get up every time and so when he can’t get up, you’re like, man, this hurts. But after that, it’s like alright, here we go.”
Hainsey suffered a season-ending leg injury in 2019 while a member of the Fighting Irish. He bounced back to have a phenomenal 2020 season and was drafted by the Buccaneers the following spring in the third round.
“Just from what I remember being the injured guy, things move on quick. And you’re like, that kind of hurts. I know he probably feels that way. But he knows how much I can use him and how much help he is to me. So, I just tried to pick his brain as much as I can whenever I can.”
Jensen has been around throughout the last week. He can be seen with the offensive line tooling around in a golf cart—a trait usually reserved for Bruce Arians himself (who is still on staff in Tampa). But whether it’s after individual drills or at the Buccaneers’ first preseason game, Hainsey is never far away. Every few reps in practice, he’ll go over to Jensen and they’ll talk over his technique and discuss ways to improve.
“He’s really involved,” Hainsey said of Jensen. “Anything he sees, he’s going to tell me. He told me he’d be out here like A.Q. [Shipley] would be for me, being his eyes and ears. So, I know that anything he says it’s going to give me an advantage if I use it.”
After seeing the training Hainsey put in, and undoubtedly getting the reports from Shipley, the Buccaneers placed their confidence in their second-year player immediately. While many were calling for a veteran center to be brought in during Jensen’s absence, Tampa Bay stood pat. They have faith in Hainsey and it’s only grown as the preseason has gone on.
“It means a lot,” Hainsey said of that faith. “I think I did a lot to put myself in a position to be ready when I was needed. So, it’s gratifying in that sense. But like Tom said, ‘You got to earn it every day.’ Nothing’s promised and I have to go out there with the intent to get better and do everything I can to help the Bucs. And keep doing those things that I’ve always done that got me to this point.”
Those things are an unrelenting work ethic that left Hainsey devoid of even a vacation this offseason. He is that committed and that focused. His processing ability is that of a league veteran already. He understands exactly what he has to do and how he has to do it. Now just comes comfortability.
Hainsey has worked tirelessly (and voluntarily) on his technique on the interior—making sure his pad level is low enough, understanding his foot placement, his hands, how to maintain leverage inside and how to recognize and anticipate what’s coming from defenders. You have to think a lot more on the interior—most of all at center. And oh, by the way, he has to do this while under a microscope after being thrust into the national conversation because of who he’s protecting.
Tom Brady is his quarterback now.
“I’ve gotten to know him,” Hainsey said of Brady. “Last year, obviously, we didn’t interact a ton but he liked to poke fun at me and I got used to that. I was able to take it in stride and give it back to him a little bit. We’re in a good spot and I think he trusts me. Everything he says is gold to my ears. Whatever he wants, I’m going to do my best to deliver. And like I said, whatever we can do to help the Bucs.”
The real question is though—does he have the towel folding/baby powder technique Brady asks of his centers down?
“By now I do.”
And if he has that down, Hainsey is ready for anything. The Buccaneers know that—and now the rest of the NFL world will, too.
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