The countdown continues as Bucs training camp kicks off in just five days! As rookies report today, it’s just one step closer to the return of football.

We’ve featured a new position group every day leading up to the start of training camp. So far we’ve covered the offensive side of the ball with battles at wide receiverrunning back, and offensive line. Then we moved over to the defensive side with previews of the interior defensive line and outside linebackers. Today we’ll jump to the middle of the field to tackle the off-ball linebacker position.

The first domino to fall in the Bucs historic offseason was the re-signing of Lavonte David. Keeping the emotional leader of the team on a two-year deal was extremely important to the continuity of the defense. It was also the first Buccaneers contract we saw with the now infamous “void years.” That contract wrinkle helped allow the Bucs to bring back almost the entire 2020 Championship team.

Joining David in the middle is an ascending star, Devin White. The third-year linebacker’s production exploded last season, to the point where he is now considered one of the top linebackers in the NFL. The Bucs brought back special teams captain Kevin Minter on a one-year veteran minimum deal, picked up special teams ace Joe Jones from Denver and drafted two day 3 linebackers.

Starters

Arguably the best off-ball linebacker duo in the league, David and White form a fearsome one-two punch on the second level. After being under-appreciated for years, David is now finally starting to get the national attention he deserves. One of the best linebackers in the game, particularly in coverage, David is still at the top of his game. Over his eight-year career, David has finished with less than 100 total tackles just once. A model of consistency, he has played 2,493 snaps out of a potential 2,506 since the 2019 season. Not showing any signs of slowing down, David continues to rate highly as a top all-around linebacker in the NFL.

After ending the 2019 season on a high note, White carried that play over into a tremendous sophomore season. Finishing with a team-high 140 total tackles, White also added nine sacks and finished with the most blitz pressures by an off-ball LB since 2016. White finished the year with the most productive pass rusher rating out of all defenders in the NFL.

Dialing up his play in the postseason, White turned in two interceptions and two fumble recoveries along with two pass breakups and three tackles-for-loss. More importantly they came in pivotal moments in the game, turning the momentum in both the Saints and Packers games and sealing the victory against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. With an emphasis on improving his coverage skills, the team’s vocal leader looks to take his place as one of the top off-ball linebackers in the game this season.

Special Teams Focus

Bringing back Minter was an easy move for the Bucs. As the squad’s special teams captain, Minter plays a pivotal role in those units. The team’s top reserve linebacker stepped in while White was out with COVID, playing well in the Bucs Wild Card victory over Washington. Minter rose to the occasion and gave the team 15 total tackles and two pass breakups in two starts last year. He’s currently slotted in as the third linebacker.

The Bucs didn’t rest on their laurels though, bringing in free agent Joe Jones from the Broncos. Over his four seasons in Denver, Jones led the Broncos in special teams tackles. In a rotational role on defense, he logged 31 total tackles as well. He could slide into the fourth spot or potentially challenge Minter as the top reserve.

But the Bucs didn’t stop there, committing fifth and seventh-round picks in this year’s draft to help bolster the middle of the field. Auburn product K.J Britt and Houston linebacker Grant Stuard will provide competition for the fourth linebacker spot. Britt is an old school two-down thumper who showed great communication and leadership skills in mini-camp and OTAs. Stuard displayed amazing versatility in college and plays the game with his hair on fire. Both players will need to have a strong showing in camp, especially on special teams, to have a chance to make the roster. Even then it might not be enough.

Verdict

The defensive side of the ball is the true enigma of the roster. What positions impress on special teams enough to earn extra roster spots will be one of the key storylines of camp. Jones, Minter, Stuard and Britt all have extensive special teams backgrounds. If all four impress, the Bucs may elect to keep five linebackers on the roster and one on the practice squad.

However, in a Super Bowl or bust year, do the Bucs go with proven veterans or young rookies on game day? With the possibility of sneaking one or both rookie linebackers onto the practice squad, I think we’ll see the Bucs ride with Minter and Jones on the 53-man roster. If the Bucs do decide to keep five players at inside linebacker, I wouldn’t be shocked if Stuard made the roster over Britt based on his position flexibility and hot motor.

On Tuesday we’ll move to the defensive backfield, previewing the cornerback position and a fierce battle for the No. 5 spot.

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About the Author: J.C. Allen

J.C. Allen is one of PewterReport.com’s newest beat writers. As a New England transplant, he has closely followed Tom Brady’s entire career and first fell in love with the game during the Patriots 1996 Super Bowl run. J.C. is in his second year covering the team after spending a year with Bucs Report as a writer, producer and show host. Some of his other interests include barbecuing, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends. His favorite Buccaneer of all time is Simeon Rice and believes he deserves a spot in Canton. Follow J.C. Allen on Twitter @JCAllenNFL.
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surferdudes
3 days ago

So who exactly did the rookies report to? Everyone was at the W.H..

bucballer
Reply to  J.C. Allen
3 days ago

I think you’ve called it just about right JC. Minter and Special Teams ace Jones as the fourth. He’s a veteran talent who is dependable on STeams. We r in win now mode, makes sense. Grant Stuart seemed to impress camp with just rookies and draft picks. His intensity and motor were mentioned. So, Stuart is ur #5. Britt to the Practice Squad…maybe. Not sold on him yet.