The Bucs drafted K.J. Britt in the fifth round in 2021 to help on special teams and develop into a replacement for veteran reserve linebacker Kevin Minter. As a rookie, Britt made a splash on special teams with five tackles and he’s in line for the top backup linebacker role heading into 2022. The Bucs opted not to re-sign the 30-year-old Minter this offseason.
But Tampa Bay hopes that Britt can become much more than the No. 3 linebacker on the depth chart behind Pro Bowler Devin White and Bucs legend Lavonte David. The team is cautiously optimistic that Britt could be David’s eventual replacement and team with White in the starting lineup for years to come.
White hopes that’s the case, too. Britt has been a constant fixture at every OTA practice and offseason workout this year. And he has drawn rave reviews from the team’s coaches and personnel department for the progress he’s made entering year two.
Bucs ILBs Devin White and KJ Britt – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“He’s more so helping me right now,” White said. “He’s been here all of the phase one [and] phase two getting the install, so he was a little step ahead of me. But he’s a great player. He’s somebody I can see myself playing by for a long time. Obviously, I want to play with Lavonte a little more time, but everybody has their day.
“I think if me or Lavonte goes down, I think he’s a great guy to step in. He took ownership of being here and learning and just getting his feet down and just showing the coaches that, if something ever happens, ‘I’m able to take over.’ So, I really appreciate that from him – I tell him every day. We just had a great practice out there together. We flow together because he likes to talk. I like to talk. We’re basically the same people. I’m way faster, though … But it’s fun playing with K.J.”
White is way faster. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, White was the fastest linebacker coming out of college that year. He blazed a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. When David was the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2012, he ran a 4.57.
Replacing Minter as the No. 3 linebacker is one thing. Showing the ability to eventually replace David as a starter is quite another. While he’ll never be in David’s class as an athlete or a playmaker, Britt will need to have a big training camp and preseason to show that he is fast enough to be an NFL starter. Otherwise, the Bucs may have to draft or sign another linebacker to ultimately replace David when the time comes.
Yet, mastering the defense from a mental standpoint this offseason has made Britt play faster on the field.
“Faster processing is a big thing,” Bucs head coach Todd Bowles said. “He could always play. But when he processes faster, he plays faster.”
After recording 27 tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup in his first two years at Auburn, Britt had a breakout junior season. In his first year as a starter, Britt had 68 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup.
Bucs LBs Grant Stuard and K.J. Britt – Photo by: USA Today
He notched 11 tackles against Kentucky and 12 stops against Georgia in the first two games of the 2020 season before tearing ligaments in his thumb against the Bulldogs. That injury prematurely ended his senior season, although he did recover in time to play in the Senior Bowl.
At 6-foot, 235 pounds, Britt is a big, physical linebacker who can blitz, take on blocks and tackle downhill. He’ll prove to be a good fit for Bowles’ scheme if he becomes adept at dropping into coverage – and by showing he’s fast enough to cover backs and tight ends underneath. As a rookie, Britt had 12 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup in limited duty on defense.
“It’s great for him going into his second year because he obviously has to learn ‘MIKE’ and ‘MO’ [linebacker positions],” Bowles said. “So, he has to learn two spots right now and he’s been here every day. He looks a lot faster than he was last year, so it’s been great for him. I look for big things from him this year.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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