With Chris Conte (chest) likely out for Sunday’s game in San Diego, the Bucs will presumably look to veteran Keith Tandy to start at safety.
Though the team on Tuesday signed Major Wright, who was released last August after spending the previous two seasons in Tampa Bay, Tandy has more experience in defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s scheme. As well as being a key contributor on special teams – playing roughly 80 percent of snaps this season – he’s also been a reserve safety.
Tandy has 12 tackles this season, contributing one or two in every game except San Francisco. If his time to start on defense comes this Sunday, Smith is confident the fifth-year pro will be up for the challenge.
“Keith Tandy’s opportunity could come this week. If it does, we expect him to play the role that we’re asking him to do,” Smith said. “He’s done a nice job on special teams, I think he’s got very good football intelligence and if he’s called upon, I believe he’ll do a very good job for us this week.”
The Bucs safeties set a high bar the past three weeks. Conte intercepted passes against Chicago and Kansas City while adding 21 tackles, most on the team, during the three-game win streak. Bradley McDougald, meanwhile, played perhaps the best game of his career last Sunday against the Seahawks, making a few solo tackles early and icing the game with an interception in the fourth quarter.
One of the duos’ primary objectives of limiting tight ends Travis Kelce and Jimmy Graham, who combined for 13 catches for 175 yards over two weeks, was a challenge. Things won’t get much easier this Sunday against Chargers’ Antonio Gates.
While the 36-year old future Hall of Famer isn’t the player he once was, he’s still performing, with 30 receptions for 290 yards and five touchdowns to his name in 2016. Smith had nothing but praise for the versatile tight end and the position itself.
“Well he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, there’s no doubt about it,” Smith said of Gates, who has 109 career TDs, two shy of Tony Gonzalez for the all-time record. “We certainly hope that he doesn’t [set the record] this week. It’s going to happen at some point in time.
“The tight end position has changed in the NFL, as I’ve said many times,” Smith said. “It’s like playing chess – and don’t take this the wrong way – that tight end position is like the queen. He can move in every direction, you can put him in different spots and it’s difficult to come up with plans sometimes to eliminate the tight end. I think we’ve done a better job, we’ve had tighter coverage and we’ve put different people on him. I think that you have to change it up but it’s very difficult because they’re going to hide him the way they put their formations together.”
Like every unit on defense, the Bucs have seen improvement and splash plays from the safety position over the past three games. Sunday should test their depth against the NFL’s fifth-ranked offense.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
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