The Tampa Bay Buccaneers missed the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons from 2008-2019 before Tom Brady's arrival in the 2020 season ended the drought and helped power them back to Super Bowl glory. Now, the organization has to rediscover how to win without Brady under center, a responsibility Pro Bowl left tackle Tristan Wirfs is shouldering personally. He's one of four remaining offensive starters from the 2020 Super LV championship team, along with wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as well as center Ryan Jensen.
"We had Tom, Tom is an incredible leader," Wirfs said on the Vikes Verified podcast. "He's an incredible person. You could put him up there with the best leaders of all time. He was very vocal. He'd bring the whole team up and give a little speech after practice. He'd bring the whole offense up."
Wirfs, who is 24 years old, doesn't expect to be at Brady's level in the 2023 season, but his accolades through just three seasons speak volumes already. The 13th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft has reached the Pro Bowl and been named an All-Pro in each of the last two seasons, a First-Team selection in 2021 and a Second-Team selection in 2022. Wirfs started all 20 of the Buccaneers' games en route to their Super Bowl title in his rookie year in the 2020 season.
"Obviously, I'm not even close to that level to do that now, but I want to say a couple things -- how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking," Wirfs elaborated. "Just how practice went -- just little things. I've been trying to do that more. Trying to be somebody that the younger guys can kind of lean to or ask me questions about whatever. It is weird, I still feel young, but going into Year 4, I've been to the Super Bowl, been to the playoffs, been to the NFC Championship, I've done stuff."
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While Wirfs utilized the lead lead-by-example approach with Brady the last three seasons, he's made an effort to become noticeably more vocal with the Buccaneers incorporating a new starting quarterback into their lineup in 2023, whether that's 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask or free agency addition Baker Mayfield. Whoever earns the title of Tampa Bay starting quarterback will also be just the second starting quarterback Wirfs has blocked for in his young career. Despite still being a younger NFL player, Wirfs has the proverbial skins on the wall to assume such an offensive mantle, so he's going to make the most of his experience and vocally take command.
"I've really been doing my best this offseason throughout all these OTAs and throughout this minicamp just to be a little bit more vocal," Wirfs said. "Because I feel like even through college, I've never been an extremely vocal leader. I've always been kind of a lead-by-example kind of guy – go almost under the radar. I feel like now it gets to a certain point where now I kind of got to take over."