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May 17, 2013 @ 1:03 am
Current rating: 5.00 Stars/4 Votes

Finding Black's Replacement At Strongside Linebacker

Written by Mark
Mark Cook


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While not a huge focus in Tampa Bay's defense, the strongside linebacker position will have a new starter in 2013 after former linebacker Quincy Black suffered a serious injury in 2012 and was released earlier this year. In this article, Pewter Report breaks down who may could take over Black's role in 2013.
While the Bucs roster appears to be upgraded considerably over last season, there are still positions that are unsettled. One of which – the strongside linebacker position – will be an interesting battle to watch during the OTAs and into training camp.

Quincy Black was the starter over the last few seasons but was lost to a nerve injury in his shoulder and neck that could prove to be career-ending. The Buccaneers parted ways with Black after an injury settlement this spring and now must determine who will fill that role in the Bill Sheridan-led defense in 2013.

The strongside usually is not as much of a focus in the basic 4-3 NFL defense as the weakside or middle linebacker positions, and in the case of the 2012 Buccaneers, even less. Even during the Buccaneers incredible 10-year run as one of the league’s best defenses under former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Tampa Bay ran a number of SAM linebackers through the system. Ryan Nece, Al Singleton, Jeff Gooch, Cato June, Shelton Quarles and a few others, all spent time at strongside linebacker during those years. The scheme was designed to funnel most of the action to the middle and weakside linebackers.

Head coach Greg Schiano and Sheridan also do not emphasize the position as Tampa Bay played their base 4-3 only around 40 percent of their defensive snaps in 2012. The Buccaneers spent a majority of time in a nickel (two linebackers and one extra defensive back) and in dime coverage (one linebacker, two extra defensive backs).

Despite the somewhat de-emphasizing of the position, it is still an important part of stopping the run, (which Tampa Bay did well in 2012, leading the NFL) but the player who fills the role must also be athletic enough to drop into pass coverage at times, especially if the team drops into a Cover 2 or Cover 3 scheme. In a division like the NFC South, which has three very good quarterbacks, any of the division opponents are as liable to throw on first or second down as they are on third down.

Black was as athletic as anyone inside the Buccaneers locker room but struggled at times dissecting formations and making proper reads. While athleticism is imperative, so is having a high football I.Q.

As OTAs begin on Monday the position battle will likely go all the way up until the final preseason game in August and is one fans should pay close attention to.

Below are a list of candidates to replace Black based on early odds of being in the starting lineup on opening day on September 7 in New York from sources recently given to PewterReport.com.

Jonathan Casillas
The Buccaneers didn’t address the linebacker position in the 2013 April NFL Draft, again proving the lack of emphasis on the SAM, but did add free agent Jonathan Casillas from the Saints. And while Casillas wasn’t a primary starter in New Orleans, sources say the Buccaneers feel he has the athleticism – and smarts – to compete for the starting role in 2013.

Casillas was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Saints of Wisconsin and has started seven games while compiling 94 tackles and three sacks over his four-year career in New Orleans.

Dekoda Watson
Watson has been the forgotten linebacker to degree. Like Black, Watson has tremendous athleticism and ability but at times lacks the proper decision-making. Part of the lack of playing time could have been the fact that Black’s contract was guaranteed, and the Buccaneers felt they needed to justify the $6 million in salary Black earned each of the last two seasons. With Black no longer a Buccaneer, Watson will have a legitimate opportunity to earn the starting nod. If Watson can mature and master Sheridan’s scheme, the former Nole could earn the starting nod come September.

Watson, a special teams standout, has started three games in his career, notching 64 tackles and one sack. The former Nole has also one touchdown from the linebacker position and three forced fumbles.

Adam Hayward
Hayward – so far in his career – has done a lot of things very well, just nothing exceptional. And that is just fine with the Bucs organization and coaching staff. Sources tell PewterReport.com that Hayward will get an opportunity to take over Black’s vacated role, as he did to finish out the final several games of 2012, but Tampa Bay loves his role as the primary backup at all three linebacker spots. The source likened his play and responsibilities to Ted Larsen on the offensive side of the ball, meaning a player who can fill in when necessary and is versatile. Hayward, like Watson, is one of the Buccaneers best special teams players and is a valuable member of the Buccaneers roster, even if just as a jack-of-all-trades linebacker.

Since joining the Buccaneers out of Portland State in 2007 Hayward has started 11 games for Tampa Bay with 136 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.

Najee Goode
Goode was fifth-round selection out of West Virginia in 2012 and saw little action in his rookie season. Part of the lack of playing time came from Goode’s struggles getting comfortable in Tampa Bay’s traditional 4-3 defense after coming from the Mountaineers exotic unconventional system. That doesn’t mean the Buccaneers are giving up on Goode, but this offseason will be crucial for Goode to prove he belongs in the NFL. The Buccaneers like Goode’s playmaking abilities during his college career while in Morgantown, with Schiano being familiar with Goode, having facing West Virginia once a season while coaching at Rutgers.

Goode was inactive or on the sideline for all but three games in 2012 and did not show up in the stat book last year.

Best Of The Rest
Jacob Cutrera
Cutrera looks like a fringe player who will need a strong offseason and continued excellent special teams play to earn a spot on the 53-man roster in 2012. The former LSU standout has not played many meaningful downs in the NFL. Tampa bay re-signed Cutrera in the offseason as a restricted free agent so there is some hope by the organization he may develop into a backup.

Joe Holland
Holland was signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft but was a late camp casualty. Following his release by the Niners, Holland was signed to the Miami Dolphins practice squad but was released midseason, then joined the Buccaneers’ practice squad in November where he remained the rest of the 2012 season.

Ka’lial Glaud
Glaud joined Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent earlier this month after appeared in all 13 games and making 13 starts for Rutgers, totaling 39 tackles and three sacks during his senior season.

Willie Mosley
Mosley was a teammate of 2013 draft pick Steven Means at Buffalo. During his four seasons playing for the Bulls Mosley, played defensive end, outside and middle linebacker, showing enough potential for the Bucs to add him as an undrafted free agent following last month’s draft.

Last modified on Saturday, 18 May 2013 10:34

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  • avatar

    I believe Goode is our best hope at this position. He can also play at MLB if needed as well, but we are OK at that position. Goode has real good sideline to sideline speed, is tough nosed against the run, and can rush a passer. He is now, after a year with the Bucs, familiar now with the scheme. He was very effective for W.Va., and only sunk to the 5th round because everyone knew it would take him a year to really adapt to other schemes. Now is his time to shine and start a long career as a starter for the Bucs.
  • avatar

    Dekota Watson is a great talent who will finally get his chance. I think we have our man!
  • avatar

    The more I have thought about our situation at SLB I think its under control. If you think about it we have safeties in Goldston and Barron that roam around the line of scrimmage and play with a LBs mentality meaning we will prob play a little more nickel coverage this year. By moving Barron and Goldston around in formations it can create favorable matchups considering they can cover and lay the lumber when needed. Sheridan needs to get creative, something he lacked last year, and I think we can be very effective playing 70-75% nickel.
  • avatar

    I haven't really liked any SLB we've had since Ian Gold in 2004. He only saw about 60% of the snaps but still had like 104 tackles and one or two INTs. Whatever happened to him after he went back to the Broncos? As for our SLB this year I'm pulling for Watson over the rest. He seems to be the best playmaker.
  • avatar

    Why sign and keep joe holland if he has no real chance to make the team...dont keep p with the practice squad but do they any plans for him or has he just been a body the whole time?
  • avatar

    Need to address this position in the future ...
  • avatar

    Hopefully we just play nickel and dime defenses 90% of the time....if the choice is to have one of these SLBs on the field, or Johnthan Banks on the field, that choice is easy for me....especially in our division.
  • avatar

    Good article Mark. I hadn't thought much about the need and risk at the SLB position until you brought it up. I am not sure if Watson is the top choice because he has had the opportunity for three years to be the starter and hasn't made it yet. Maybe this will be his year; if not, then he might not make it with this team next season. I have not been that impressed with Heyward; he reminds me of Biggers at CB where he was just a little to slow to play the position. I believe Goode might have the best shot at SLB after Watson.
  • avatar

    There is one less "best of the rest" as Willie Moseley was cut Friday. Rumor is Dave Wannstedt is pushing for Dom DeCiccio, SLB from Pitt, recently released from the Bears as his replacement! FYI, I'm never right on these rumors so take it with a grain of salt! lol
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