The initial free agency period and the draft came and went without the Bucs addressing the inside linebacker position. A huge reason why is the ascension of K.J. Britt, last year’s fifth-round pick out of Auburn.
As a rookie, Britt carved out an immediate role on special teams, finishing the year with five tackles on the unit. That ranked fourth on the team. As he takes the next step into becoming the team’s top backup inside linebacker, special teams coach Keith Armstrong thinks his work on defense may carry over.
“K.J.’s doing a really good job,” Armstrong said. “K.J. is doing a good job of running the defense now. Some of that may carry over into the special teams part of it.”
The team looks poised to give Britt a shot at the top backup position that’s been held by veteran Kevin Minter the past four seasons. The second-year player will need to continue to show improvement in all aspects of his game. That includes a better understanding of the playbook and defense as a whole.
“I’m impressed with him so far,” co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Larry Foote said. “We need a guy that knows the defense. And if one of those two guys (Lavonte David and Devin White) go down, we don’t miss a beat. He’s got to prove that to us and Coach (Todd) Bowles in walk-throughs. He’s doing a great job these last couple weeks. It’s tough for a young guy to replace an older guy. It’s a lot of pressure. So, as long as he keeps growing at this pace, we’ll be comfortable with him.”
Playing Time Key For Development of Bucs LB Britt
Bucs ILB K.J. Britt – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
For Britt, just getting on the field was a key to his growth last season. Getting out on the field and knowing he belonged and could play in the league was a key to his improvement.
“What improved was just playing,” Britt said at the Arians Family Foundation Golf Tournament in April. “Just knowing that I could play, knowing that I can excel in this league. This year, I’m just trying to be the best I can be. Dive into the playbook and really know the playbook and just fill a role as the third linebacker. Still on special teams and do what I got to do and do my job. Then, just be ready to play when my number’s called.”
The Bucs linebacker is on a good track to filling that role behind starters Lavonte David and Devin White. As long as he continues to take the coaching and translate it into plays on the field, he could play his way into the third linebacker spot.
“Just play,” Foote said. “Just keep showing up. First step of getting better is keep showing up and just keep on developing. So far in the classroom, they’re responding. They’re responding to the information that’s given and they’re doing a good job spitting it back.”
In limited playing time last season, Britt finished with 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defended. As of now, in the case of injury this season, Britt is the next man up. He’ll need to be ready to produce if his number is called.