In the tumultuous roster turnover that exists each year for NFL organizations, more frequently teams are forced to rely on their young players and early-round draft picks. A player that fits that trend for the Buccaneers is second-year linebacker Quincy Black. The 2007 third rounder has had a strong offseason and has impressed the organization with his development.
"I'm just going out there, and trying to make the most of my reps," said Black. "We have a lot of guys out here, so I have to show something to the coaches to really stand out."
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Black did not see much action on the field as a linebacker during his rookie year. For the season, the University of New Mexico product recorded nine tackles on defense. On special teams, Black had a strong season, finishing third on the team with 17 tackles and forcing the only special teams fumble. After a year in the league, many second-year players are ready to make a jump in their production due to becoming acclimated to the speed of the game and knowing the playbook. Black plans on living up to those expectations in his second year with the Bucs.
"I feel more comfortable," said Black. "Just getting the reps and seeing the different looks is really good for me. I'm coming along."
Last year in training camp, the Buccaneers briefly moved Black from the Sam (strongside) linebacker position to the Mike (middle) linebacker spot. With the signing of former Philadelphia Eagle Jeremiah Trotter in early September and moving veteran Ryan Nece to Mike, the Bucs returned Black to the Sam spot to back up free agent addition Cato June.
In college, Black played the "lobo" position, which is a safety/linebacker hybrid spot that is specific to New Mexico's defensive scheme. Due to his coverage skills, some assumed Black could play the Will (weakside) linebacker spot as well. In the Bucs' Tampa 2 defensive scheme, the weakside linebacker is counted on to contribute heavily in pass defense. Due to Black's background, and being moved around as a rookie, it has been speculated that he could play any of the three linebacker spots.
"I don't feel comfortable in all of them," said Black. "If my number is called I'll go in there, and do the best I can. These guys have been studying their position hard, in the same manner in which I study mine, and they are professionals with a lot more experience. I didn't feel comfortable in all of them.
"I'm most at home on the Sam, and I've been working there. I haven't done any Mike since training camp last year. Definitely Sam [is where I'm most comfortable], I've been doing all Sam."
It makes sense that Black would be a Sam linebacker from a size perspective. The Sam linebacker traditionally lines up on the tight end's side of the offense. Due to the Sam's responsibilities, Black regularly has to take on blocks from tight ends and right tackles. At 240 pounds, Black is the same size as middle linebacker Ruud, and bigger than June, Nece, and Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks. Black has more size and strength than the majority of Tampa Bay's linebackers, and thus he has more potential to take on blocks from bigger players.
Even though Black is currently a backup to June, he could be the first linebacker off the bench if there is an injury to June or Brooks. In four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, June played the Will linebacker spot, so if Brooks is injured June would likely move to the Will, and Black would be in at Sam. Last season there was an injury to the starter in front of Black.
When June was held out of the playoff loss to the Giants with a broken foot, Nece started at Sam. Tampa Bay felt more comfortable going with the veteran Nece, who was the former starter at Sam, rather than the rookie Black. Over the course of the 2005-2006 seasons, Nece started 26 games at the Sam including the Bucs 2005 playoff game. June was missed in that '07 playoff contest, and this year the belief is that Black would be June's replacement.
The only way it seems Black would not be the first linebacker off the bench is if there is an injury to starting Mike linebacker Ruud, his backup will be determined in training camp. Until the opportunity arises for Black to go in for Brooks or June, Black has his sights set on a goal that is within his reach.
"I'm looking to lead the team in tackles on special teams," said Black. "I know there is a lot of guys out here shooting for that, but it's a big deal with [special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and the team]. It's something you can puff your chest out about and take pride in."
The 24-year-old Black will have a lot of competition to lead the team in special teams tackles. There will also be a lot of competition for the backup linebacker spots. The Buccaneers signed free agent linebackers Matt McCoy and Teddy Lehman. They selected linebacker Geno Hayes in the sixth round of April's draft. Will linebacker Adam Hayward was also in Black's draft class and is competing for a roster spot. The other backups attempting to make the team are Nece and Antoine Cash.
"All the guys have been really good," said Black. "You could've asked me who stood out last year and I would've said Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud, and Cato June. With me knowing the system more in depth now, it means a lot more when you see a guy make plays and is busting it to get to the ball and make turnovers."
Having lived through the transition of being a college standout to then being a rookie linebacker for the Bucs, Black and Hayward have fresh knowledge of what Hayes will encounter in his rookie season.
"Geno looks good," said Black. "He's a good looking linebacker. He's a rookie, he makes mistakes, but I still make mistakes. Shoot, I still make some rookie mistakes [laughing]. He looks good."
Despite the fact that Black is in a position to understand Hayes better than some of the veterans, Black said he isn't taking the rookie under his wing.
"We're leaving that to Brooks," said Black. "Those Florida State guys, they are a different breed, so we leave them alone. Just kidding."
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