TAMPA — Count Tom Brady among the Bucs players who are “heartbroken” over the loss of center Ryan Jensen, who was carted off the field after sustaining a left knee injury during practice on Thursday.
And while many have confidence in second-year pro Robert Hainsey to step into that position, Brady made it clear that the 2021 third-round pick from Notre Dame will have to earn his trust with his play.
“He’s worked really hard,” Brady said of Hainsey. “Obviously, everyone is heartbroken with what happened to Ryan, so it will take a little time. But (Hainsey) has got to step into the job and do a great job.
“He worked hard last year (and) really gained the trust of a lot of people. He’s got to go earn it. Like all of us, it’s not what you did in the offseason, it’s how good of a football player are you? It’s to be determined for all of us.”
Prior to Jensen’s injury, the Bucs and Brady were upbeat about their chances of returning to the Super Bowl.
But despite adding players such as wide receivers Julio Jones and Russell Gage, and tight end Kyle Rudolph to the offense, Brady made it clear that a lot can change between now and the Sept. 11 opener at Dallas.
“Nobody knows what the team is going to look like,” Brady said. “You think you have a center, and then he gets injured. The team is different in one day. So it’s a long time between now and the first game.
“They’re all working hard. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of great professionals who have great work ethics and know how to play the game, and those guys are coming out here to work every day. It’s tough conditions out here. There’s not a lot of wind. It’s pretty hot. You’ve got to kind of gear up every day for it.”
By far, the biggest concern is replacing Jensen with either Hainsey or Nick Leverett. Head coach Todd Bowles said Monday he had no update on Jensen, who was undergoing further testing. The Bucs are fearful the injury could be season-ending. “We’re still waiting for further tests to come back,” Bowles said.
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Hainsey is a converted tackle who figured to compete with Aaron Stinnie, Leverett and rookie Luke Goedeke at left guard until Jensen went down. Hainsey spent the offseason working out with former Bucs center and assistant coach A.Q. Shipley in Arizona.
The Bucs also have a new right guard in Shaq Mason, who played with Brady in New England.
“It’s not a concern right now,” Bowles said of the Bucs’ offensive line. “Again, we drafted Hainsey in the third round last year. He took a ton of reps throughout the season. He’s taken a ton of reps with the offensive line, other than Shaq Mason. But chemistry comes through preseason.
“Better it happened now than Week 6 or 7, when he gets two days of practice and you worry about him going into a game. He’s got two weeks of practice, he’s got three preseason games, he’s going against (defensive linemen) Vita (Vea) and (Akiem) Hicks every day, with “Nacho” (Rakeem Nunez-Roches) and Will (Gholston). He’s going to be more than ready, if it comes to that, when the season starts.”
The timing of the injury could work in the Bucs’ favor. So far, the team has resisted the temptation to sign a veteran free-agent center, such as former Browns starter J.C. Tretter.
Monday marked the first time Brady has addressed the media since training camp began. He kept his answers fairly short.
Brady downplayed his role in the recruitment of free agents such as Jones, Gage and Rudolph: “Naturally, I’m an older player and I’ve been very fortunate to know a lot of guys,” he said. “Guys choose this team because of the team, not because of me. We have a great organization, great teammates, and I think people are excited to join a great group of people and a great group of men. It’s never about one person in this sport.”
Brady, who turns 45 on Wednesday, has thrown the ball as well as he ever has the first four days of camp.
“I don’t think you can do anything without incredible support,” he said. “It’s not about me, it’s about all the people who have supported me to get to this point. I’m very grateful. I’m just super grateful to everybody who has played an important role, and I just can’t take anything for granted.”
Bowles was asked if he has any plans to celebrate Brady’s birthday. “As long as we keep him upright and he’s walking, that’s a great birthday. What do you give the guy that has everything, right?”
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