The Bucs appear to be moving on from a trio of leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Although the team hasn’t officially shut the door on their return, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and reserve inside linebacker Kevin Minter haven’t been re-signed.
Their departure has created a bit of leadership void on defense, and on special teams where Minter was a captain the past two years. Tampa Bay has a pair of defensive captains returning at the linebacker level in Lavonte David and Pro Bowler Devin White, but will need others to lead up front.
Time For Barrett To Replace JPP
Bucs OLBs Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul and DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Pierre-Paul was a loud, vocal leader with an alpha presence about him. He brought energy to the Bucs huddle on the field and on the sideline. At age 33 and coming off rotator cuff surgery, it’s doubtful he returns to Tampa Bay. The Bucs drafted Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in the first round last year and have talked about him starting this season. But at age 22 and entering his second NFL season he’s nowhere ready to lead.
Instead, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett has been asked to step up. Barrett, a two-time Pro Bowler, signed a four-year contract extension worth $17 million per year in 2020.
New outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders hasn’t been around Barrett that long since joining the staff in March. But he does know that Barrett has what it takes to fill the void created by Pierre-Paul’s departure.
“He definitely is an excellent, excellent player,” Sanders said. “As important, he’s a great person too. He has a great work ethic. … He’s a coachable guy, and he’s a leader. His work ethic – not only on the field, but in the classroom – has been good. I think he’s in for another big year – I really do.”
Bucs co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers agrees with Sanders.
“From the outside perspective, I would say Shaq – which is a steady player for us – he would have to step up into that role on the outside with [Anthony] Nelson, Joe and Cam [Gill] being younger.”
Bucs Appear To Be Turning The Page On Suh
Suh turned 35 in January and showed some signs of slowing down last year despite registering six sacks for a second straight season. General manager Jason Licht was asked about Suh’s possible return in a press conference during the draft after the team selected Logan Hall, a defensive tackle from Houston. Hall, the team’s first pick in the second round, will start at the 3-technique defensive tackle position, which is where Suh played.
Bucs DTs Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea – Photo by: USA Today
Licht made it sound like Suh might only be re-signed by the Bucs in an emergency situation.
“No, we’re not shutting the door,” Licht said. “There are a lot of injuries that happen throughout the year and we’re not putting all of our stock in the guys we have right now, so I wouldn’t shut the door.”
Without Suh’s presence, Rodgers expects nose tackle Vita Vea, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, to assume a leadership role this season.
“Inside, it would be Vita – he would have to step up and assume the role, which he should,” Rodgers said. “He comes to work every day, he’s here and knows what we have to do and get done. Through attrition, Vita should step up into the role upfront. We still have two leaders at linebacker (David and White) so it will be by committee. Those guys will have big shoes to fill.”
Late last year, Vea signed a five-year contract extension worth $17.75 million per season. That came on the heels of earning his first Pro Bowl berth.
“He was going really good the year before and then he came back for the playoff run,” Rodgers said of Vea. “Then the way he played this past year he was getting more and more confident as the season went on. He was still favoring [his ankle] some and knocking the rust off, but as the season finished I thought he was playing really well. Now the thing with him, he’s got to – and I’m harping on him – he’s the biggest guy on the field … but he’s got to play like that all the time.”
Britt, Stuard Stepping Up For Bucs On Special Teams
The job of replacing Minter as the backup inside linebacker behind White and David will fall on the broad shoulders of K.J. Britt. Last year’s fifth-round pick, Britt has drawn rave reviews not only for his ability to learn the middle linebacker role on defense, but also to star on special teams.
Bucs LBs Grant Stuard and K.J. Britt – Photo by: USA Today
Britt was fourth on the team last year with five special teams tackles. Minter was third with seven. Last year’s seventh-round pick, linebacker Grant Stuard, led Tampa Bay with 12 special teams tackles and forced a fumble.
Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong implied that Britt or Stuard could take over as a special teams captain to fill the void created by Minter’s departure.
“K.J. is doing a really good job,” Armstrong said. “Most of the young guys are here right now and we’re doing a lot of defense and special teams-type stuff. K.J. is doing a good job of running the defense now. Some of that may carry over to the special teams part of it. The same thing with Grant.”