The Bucs were able to succeed in their mission of bringing back all of the impact players from their Super Bowl-winning roster for the 2021 season, most recently re-signing defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh to a one-year deal with $9 million guaranteed.
And while Tampa Bay has a slew of experienced veterans along the defensive line in Suh, Vita Vea, Will Gholston, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, Vea’s injury last year showed that in one play everything could change. While the Bucs were grateful to have defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches on the roster before acquiring nose tackle Steve McLendon via a trade with the Jets, Nunez-Roches is currently the only proven interior defensive line depth on the roster. This puts pressure on a group of young backups, including Khalil Davis, the Bucs’ sixth-round draft pick in 2020.
“I’m not sure exactly if it stunted his growth or anything of that nature,” Suh said about last year’s lack of offseason training programs. “What I would say is that it made it a lot more difficult because he would get a lot more attention during OTAs, during minicamp and all of those particular opportunities.”
Davis totaled just 37 total snaps over two games as a rookie in 2020, totaling two tackles. He drew praise from several coaches during training camp, but there was very little opportunity for him to develop in a truncated offseason with no preseason games. With team workouts scheduled to begin in mid-April, it could be a huge opportunity for Davis and a number of young players to make strides as the NFL’s offseason begins getting back to normal.
“We’ll see how this particular offseason comes together as I know a lot of it is in flux,” Suh said. “But I think Khalil got a lot of great work in, and when he was put on the football field he was expected to make plays and he did make plays and he created havoc. So as I look at him going into his second year, he has an opportunity to continue doing that and it’s part of my task and the collective defensive line group to bring him along and keep getting him to get better each and every single day that he’s out there.”
Currently, the Bucs starting interior defensive line returns Vea, Gholston and Suh, with Nunez-Roches once again serving as the top reserve off the bench. After that the depth remains very thin, with Davis, Jeremiah Ledbetter and Pat O’Connor. The Bucs are likely to draft at least one defensive tackle in the 2021 NFL Draft, especially with Suh and Gholston entering contract years. The team could also look to sign a veteran free agent for cheap, as several big names like Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey and others are still out there.