It really all started with the addition of Chris Baker.
Baker, primarily a nose tackle and 5-techique player, is a good big-bodied interior defensive lineman, but wasn’t exactly the kind of fit for a 4-3 defense some people thought the Buccaneers would go after. But, in fact, he was a priority.
Following his signing, the team let Akeem Spence walk, a player much more suited to a 4-3, and re-signed Sealver Siligia, a nose tackle-like player. They also let Darly Smith, a 4-3 outside linebacker, leave the team with no replacement until the draft where the team opted to take a linebacker who could also rush the passer with bigger size in Kendell Beckwith.
Now there’s this.
In an interview with Greg Auman from the Tampa Bay Times, Buccaneers pass rusher, Noah Spence, said he’s trimmed down some of his size from the 251-pound playing weight he was last season to about 240-243 right now. That is contrary to the moves the team has been making during the offseason to get bigger in all areas of their front seven.
So, if the Buccaneers are getting bigger in the middle, but are allowing their prized pass rusher to lose a bit of weight and get faster, could defensive coordinator Mike Smith be hinting at playing a 3-4 on some occasions this season using Spence as his featured EDGE rusher in a stand-up, linebacker role instead of a hand-in-the-ground defensive end – much like a Von Miller or a Khalil Mack?
The answer to that is: not entirely. However, it seems with each interview we get, from either players or coaches, the idea of Spence taking on a more pressing and versatile role this season is in the minds of players, personnel and coaches, too, not just ours.
Take general manager Jason Licht for example.
“We have some very good players along that D-line and they are going to get better too”, Licht said. “They are going to be better than they were last year this year with development of some of the younger guys,” and then proceed to mention Noah Spence by name – the first and only name he named.
Then there was fellow defensive lineman, Robert Ayers.
“I think [Spence] is a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year – that’s my opinion,” Ayers said. “Whether he goes and does it is another thing, but that’s how I feel about him because I think he has tools that not many people come into this league with and he’s still learning. I’m excited for him. It’s going to be a big year.”
But, the quote that really made me believe that this team is going to show a lot more 3-4 looks than last year, including featuring Spence as an outside linebacker pass rusher, is this one from Smith when talking about defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.
“We feel like [Tu’ikolovatu] is not just a guy, just like [Chris] Baker, we don’t think that they’re guys that are only going to play on first and second-down even though they’re 300-plus pounds. I think Stevie could move out and play some five technique. We know that Baker can, he did it in Washington. Again, we’re trying to get into a situation where we have as much flexibility as we possibly can with the guys that are dressed out on defense.”
Defensive tackles playing 5-tech? Making the defense as flexible as possible (we sort of knew this already)? Spence losing weight to have speed on the edge or in space, potentially worrying about coverage more than run support?
Sure sounds a little 3-4-ish to me.
I don’t expect the team’s base 4-3 to go away any time soon, but it appears the Buccaneers are going into a more “Multiple Defense” playbook than we thought.
In the coming week, I’ll give you all the run down on just what 3-4 and 4-3 fronts really are. I’ll explain the differences they call for, and the players it takes to be effective in each front. That way we’ll see if we can go into the mind of Mike Smith and get ahead of the curve in predicting some break out stars for the 2017 season in his versatile defense.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com
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