Bucs training camp is so close you can smell it and as we wind down the series well take a look at the safety position. So far, we’ve featured a new position group every day leading up to the start of camp:
Much like the corner position the starters here are set. Antoine Winfield, Jr., Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards return to make up the three-headed monster in the safety group. The emphasis this offseason was improving the special teams on the back end of the roster after the loss of Andrew Adams in free agency. The Bucs brought in four new players to compete with holdover Javon Hagan in what will be one of the more intriguing battles of camp.
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Winfield is the star of this group. As a rookie he was extremely impressive starting from day one and making the All-Rookie team at safety. Winfield stated 19 games for the Bucs, missing only the NFC Championship with an ankle injury. Particularly effective in the run game, he graded out as the second-best safety in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Winfield finished third on the team in total tackles with 91 and added three sacks and two forced fumbles with a recovery. In the playoffs he had a momentum-turning forced fumble against the Saints, adding an interception and an astonishing 21.7 allowed passer rating over three games. Not to mention an iconic deuces moment directed at Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill in Super Bowl LV.
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead and Packers RB Aaron Jones – Photo by: USA Today
Whitehead transformed his body in the offseason, and it paid off on the field as a dominating, hard-hitting safety. His forced fumble against the Packers, although resulting in a shoulder injury, was the start of the turning point in the NFC Championship game. Whitehead finished the season playing in 83 percent of the snaps on defense posting the fourth most tackles on the team with 74. A playmaker for the Bucs, he added two sacks, two interceptions, four passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as well. Coming off a torn labrum and in a contract year, it will be crucial for Whitehead to pick up where he left off last season.
The Wild Card
The ball-hawking Edwards has been a great nickel safety when called upon. Playing in all 20 games, and nearly 25 percent of the plays, he’s a lock for the third safety spot. Edwards provided multiple big plays in key moments, including a game-sealing interception in the divisional round win at New Orleans. In 163 coverage snaps Edwards only allowed 3.7 yards per reception. Edwards’s versatility in the defensive backfield could see him challenge Whitehead for more playing time in 2021.
Battle for the Backup Spot
With the departure of Adams, Javon Hagan stands the most likely to benefit. Hagan came in as an undrafted free agent and spent nearly the entire season on the practice squad until he was activated in the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Hagan only played on special teams but excelled in that role. His biggest advantage will be his experience in Todd Bowles’ defensive system.
Bucs S Raven Greene – Photo by: USA Today
He’ll have competition though in newly signed Raven Greene, who spent the last three seasons with the Packers. Seeing game action in 20 games with one start, he compiled 51 tackles, seven passes defensed, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. As a top competitor, Greene will give the second-year safety, Hagan, all he can for that final spot.
Behind them in the battle for the fourth spot is newcomer Curtis Riley. Unfortunately, Riley suffered a slight Achilles tear in mini-camp and his status is in question for the start of camp. The time missed will most certainly set back his bid to make the roster. Riley has bounced around the league but has been a productive player in the NFL, starting all 16 games in 2018 for the Giants. In the 49 regular season games he’s played in, Riley has compiled 131 tackles, five interceptions and eight passes defended.
Joining the competition is undrafted safeties Lawrence White and Augie Contressa. Out of Stony Brook, Contressa was a three-year starter and a second-team all-conference choice in 2020. While White was a two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 selection out of Iowa State. As one of the most competitive spots on the roster, their best bet to stay with the club will be a good showing in camp to make it on the practice squad.
Unlike most years, there was not a lot of turnover on the team, highlighting these back of the roster battles. There will be a lot of focus on how quickly the players can absorb the playbook and fit into the system as well as their play on the special teams units.
With a year in the system under his belt, Hagan is the likely choice and figures to have the best chance to take the fourth safety spot. The team could choose to keep five safeties on the roster, bringing the DB group to a total 10 players. If they take that route, look for the extra safety to be Greene, as he can also provide some level of insurance as a dime linebacker.
On Friday there will be a bonus series quickly touching on the quarterback, tight end and kick returning battles that could unfold during camp. Concluding with a series recap on Saturday before the start of Bucs training camp on Sunday, July 25.
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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