TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers All-Pro Tristan Wirfs said Friday that the move from right to left tackle this spring became a source of such debilitating anxiety that he began seeing team sports psychologist Joe Carella for help.
"It seems like so minuscule, like oh, you're just flipping sides, but I was like having breakdowns about it," Wirfs said. "I'm like, 'I can't sit here with these thoughts anymore, I'm just kind of setting myself up for failure.' I would just think about, 'I am going to suck' or like, 'I am not going to be able to do it' all day long."
Wirfs had started 46 games for the Bucs at right tackle since his rookie season in 2020. But when longtime Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith was cut in March due to salary cap issues and the team wasn't able to draft a replacement, it meant Wirfs would move to the left side.
Wirfs had started only four games on the left at Iowa, and none in the NFL on that side, which requires a player to not only rewire his body but also retrain his eyes and brain. On top of that, the Bucs were set to undergo a scheme change and line up without seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady after three straight postseason appearances.
"I was in a really rough spot mentally. I was really nervous. I was playing out the season in my head over and over again like, 'Oh, what if it goes this way or what if it goes this way?' So, I was like, 'It is freaking May. You have to calm down,'" said Wirfs, who believes his previous success played a big part in his fear of failure.
Wirfs delivered a historically good NFL combine performance that helped make him the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft, and won a Super Bowl with the Bucs in his rookie season. He was then named first-team All-Pro in his second season and second-team All-Pro in 2022, with Pro Bowls in both campaigns. Members of the coaching staff were even touting him as a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"I think having those things happen in the first three years are huge to what I am thinking about," said Wirfs, who added that the doubts actually began during his rookie season. "I went up against Shaq [Barrett] and JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul]. I was like, 'I can't do this. I am terrible.' I would go back to my apartment and just think like, 'Oh my goodness, I am not cut out for this.' Now it is just trying to keep those thoughts out as much as I can."