TAMPA — He briefly pondered the question, repeating it aloud as he stroked his chin and sought his memory for a response.
“Coolest Christmas gift I ever got,” Tristan Wirfs said last week. “Oh wow, that’s a hard one.”
Wirfs thought for another few seconds before everything suddenly faded to blue. Specifically, powder blue.
The 23-year-old Bucs right tackle still has that No. 21 Chargers jersey of iconic tailback LaDainian Tomlinson somewhere.
“I was probably 11 or 12, but I remember I was obsessed with LaDainian Tomlinson,” Wirfs said. “And I wrote him a letter in school. We’d write a letter to a celebrity, see if they write back, and I did LaDainian Tomlinson (who didn’t respond). But I remember getting a jersey that year for Christmas. My mom got it.”
The yuletide vibes were palpable inside the team locker room Thursday, where every player had a Segway GT electric scooter — courtesy of Mike Evans — waiting for them at their cubicle. For Wirfs, it was his second eye-sparkling gift in as many days.
On Wednesday, he learned he had been chosen for the second Pro Bowl of this three-year career.
“My agent called me and told me the other night,” Wirfs said. “And then I called my mom (Sarah) and she was freaking out, she was real excited.”
Pro Bowl nod No. 2 for Wirfs pic.twitter.com/g0Eh6nbXiM
— Sports by Tampa Bay Times (@TBTimes_Sports)
Should her son stay healthy — and injuries have been his lone impediment so far — it will be a gift that keeps on giving. At this point, it’s plausible to project Wirfs owning as many Pro Bowl nods (five) by age 26 as Tomlinson had in his career.
Another decade or so after that, and many insist he’ll have the jerseys of two Hall of Famers in his possession — Tomlinson’s and his own.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy come in like that,” Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “Obviously, there have been some great tackles in this league that I wasn’t around, so I haven’t been able to see everything. But he was this way when he walked through the door.”
A starter from the day he entered AdventHealth Training Center, Wirfs helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl as a rookie and quickly debunked any sophomore-slump fears in Year 2, when he was named a first-team All-Pro. In the twilight of his third NFL season, his analytics remain off the charts.
In 771 offensive snaps (he has missed the last three games with an ankle injury), he has surrendered four pressures of Tom Brady, one quarterback hit and one sack, according to Pro Football Focus. Among qualified offensive tackles (at least 750 snaps), he is one of only five to have given up one or fewer sacks and one of eight to have allowed one or fewer quarterback hits.
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Should be worth noting the Bucs have attempted more passes (624) than anyone in the NFL.
“I think when he’s not out there we all notice it,” Brady said.
“He’s really learning how to be a real professional, and he takes his job seriously. He’s obviously talented; just his size (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), his ability to keep people out of the backfield. Very difficult to go through and he’s very hard to go around. He doesn’t get beat very often — very, very, very rarely.”
Ask where Wirfs has improved the most in Year 3, and the responses arrive in generalities, if only because he already seemed so refined — and freakishly athletic — upon his arrival from the University of Iowa. Wirfs said he has focused on staying off his toes in the run game and striving to be more consistent.
But his consistency as it stands would be difficult to upgrade.
How the Pro Bowler has developed since Year 1: pic.twitter.com/qhQnCJH6p7
— Sports by Tampa Bay Times (@TBTimes_Sports)
Wirfs hasn’t allowed more than two sacks or been whistled for more than three penalties in any of his three seasons. Entering Week 16, he’s the NFL’s highest-graded tackle (86.8 overall, 90.0 pass blocking) according to Pro Football Focus. His overall grade as a rookie: 81.8.
“I mean, he should be a three-time Pro Bowl guy when you really think about it,” Leftwich said. “His rookie year, he probably was the best tackle, grading-wise, in the league.”
And he doesn’t even turn 24 until January.
The powder-blue sky’s the limit.
“Really happy for him, he certainly deserves (the Pro Bowl recognition),” Brady said. “And if he sticks with it, there will be a lot more of those.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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