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Buccaneers plan to look at internal replacements for injured center Ryan Jensen

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered the first major injury of 2022 training camps when they lost iron-man center Ryan Jensen to a significant and potentially season-ending knee injury this week.

The team's mission is to find his replacement on the roster, and it's down to two internal candidates.

"It will be between [Robert] Hainsey and Nick Leverett right now," Bucs head coach Todd Bowles said Friday.

Combined, they have fewer than 100 regular-season snaps between them. Hainsey, Tampa Bay's third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, saw mop-up action in nine games late last season.

Leverett, who was undrafted out of Rice in the 2020 draft class, appeared in two games last season, with the majority of his snaps coming as a replacement for an injured Aaron Stinnie in the Bucs' Week 12 win over the Colts last year.

"Both of them have played it," Bowles said. "It will be a tough battle going in. Both of them are very smart, both are very tough. It's better to happen now than in the middle of the season so these guys can get some practice reps and prepare for it. I think either one of them will be fine."

The only starting center Tom Brady has worked with in Tampa, Jensen has started 81 consecutive games and has only missed a handful of snaps the past five seasons combined. He had interest as a free agent from both the Bengals and Steelers but returned to Tampa on three-year, $39 million deal this offseason that included $23 million guaranteed.

Interestingly, neither Hainsey nor Leverett played center in college. Hainsey was almost exclusively a right tackle for Notre Dame, while Leverett played mostly left tackle and left guard for the Owls.

If you're a Bucs fan in need of the bright side, Brady operated at a very high level in New England for many years with centers with similar or less-impressive pedigrees, from Day 3 picks such as Dan Koppen, Bryan Stork and Ted Karras to undrafted players such as Ryan Wendell and David Andrews.

Although Bowles admitted the team could look for help outside the organization to bolster the position, the first crack for starting duties might go to Hainsey, who saw limited action at center a year ago.

"His film study is outstanding," Bowles said of Hainsey. "He's been a tough guy. He comes from Notre Dame, he's very smart, he can see defenses, he can help the quarterback that way. He can help the offensive line. He's diligent about it and he wants to be good. There's not a day he doesn't come in and watch tape. So it's just a matter of putting it on tape and getting a chance to play."

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