NFL teams have a “next man up” mentality, and the Bucs latest example of that is Rakeem Nunez-Roches who is taking the reins at defensive tackle replacing Vita Vea, who broke his leg in Thursday night’s game and will miss the rest of the season.
“It’s always been about the next man up,” Nunez-Roches said on Tuesday. “Seeing one of your brothers go down like that – it’s heartbreaking.”
Nunez-Roches, or “Nacho” as many call him, has been commended by his coaches since training camp for the work he put in this offseason. Nunez-Roches trains like a starter even if he isn’t one, because you never know when your number is going to get called.
“To be honest with you, it’s not a big shocker as far as my role having to increase,” Nunez-Rohces said. “Because every time I come to work – and in my whole offseason – I’m preparing to be a starter. If you’re preparing to be a backup, you’re in the wrong game. I come to work as if I’m going to be out there playing 50-60 plays. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I fit where I’m supposed to be at. For my role to change, it doesn’t change my preparation [and] it doesn’t change my mentality. It’s just understanding [that] my role is bigger, and I have the opportunity. Don’t count the plays – make the plays count.”
There’s no replacing Vea along the defensive line. He’s been an integral part to the Bucs’ defense ever since he was drafted in 2018, including this season where he recorded 10 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss before his injury.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Nunez-Roches.
Back in 2017 while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, Nunez-Roches started 11 games replacing an injured two-time Pro Bowler, Dontari Poe. This scenario isn’t anything new to him, and that’s why he says it’s important to always be prepared.
“Dontari Poe went down before and I had to do the same thing again.” Nunez-Roches said. Step in and fill big shoes. Something can happen at any moment. You don’t want to be sitting there, ‘I’m preparing for five plays or 10 plays.’ One day someone wakes up with a stomach sickness and now you’re in there for 40 plays and it shows in your preparation. You’re out there making mistakes, losing downs or you’re getting cut out of your gap because you didn’t put yourself in the best situation to be successful. When the opportunity comes, you just want to be ready.
“I always prepare like I’m that guy [and] I’m going to be out there for 40 plays. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, I feel like I’m going to be out there for 40 plays. I always play like that [and] I always come to work like that. It’s just my joy, so I take pride in what I do.”