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FAB 1. Barrett Is Ready For A Big Year With Bucs
Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett was thrilled that the Bucs rewarded him with a four-year, $68.5 million contraction extension this offseason.
But he wasn’t particularly thrilled about how he played last year, despite recording a sack and multiple pressures in Tampa Bay’s 31-9 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.
A year after he broke Warren Sapp’s Bucs single-season sack record with 19.5 in earning his first Pro Bowl berth, Barrett notched just eight sacks last year. The Bucs had placed the franchise tag on Barrett in 2020 and he was third on the team in sacks behind Jason Pierre-Paul (9.5) and Devin White (nine).
Barrett turned up the pressure in the playoffs, recording three sacks against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game before corralling Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LV. But despite his new riches and another Super Bowl ring, Barrett is far from satisfied.
“This upcoming year I’m working on being consistent game in, game out,” Barrett said. “There were some games where I might have played good, but in my head I didn’t play the way I was supposed to play. I want to improve on that. I want to have the best season possible that you all have ever seen from a defensive end/outside linebacker.”
I’m coming with a vengeance this year – even though we won the Super Bowl. I’m still hungry. I want to show my supporters that they’re right to support me and show the doubters that they were wrong for doubting me. I want to be individually the Defensive Player of the Year. If they want to give me the MVP because my season that I’ll have should be MVP level – I’m coming, man. I won’t be denied this year. I’m so excited to have this time off so when we get back I’ll be ready to go. This year is going to be real big for me.”
Barrett not only plans to return to double-digit sacks and lead the Bucs in that category once again. He also wants to lead the league.
“I do agree that my sack numbers were down,” Barrett said. “My pressure rate was good, but I think pressure only matters if you are getting sacks. I’m trying to get my sack numbers back up.”
Barrett believes it’s possible to top his personal best this year.
“That 19.5 season, I definitely missed a lot of sacks that year,” Barrett said. “I’m working on taking the proper angle, knowing where my help is at and where the quarterback will want to escape at because of where my help is located. I just have to be more efficient in my angles and pursuit angles to the ball and to the quarterback so I can be able to make the plays that I’ve been missing.”
Barrett, who plays primarily at left outside linebacker, is looking forward to working against right tackle Tristan Wirfs in training camp to help sharpen his skills. Barrett had high praise for Wirfs, the Bucs’ first-round pick from a year ago, who started every game as a rookie and only allowed one sack.
“Tristan is definitely the best tackle I’ve played against,” Barrett said. “He most definitely learned from his mistakes and most definitely doesn’t repeat the same mistakes at all anymore. It’s going to be good going against him this training camp coming up because it’s going to make me a better player and make me have to work on different pass rushes and different game plans and different schemes for going against every tackle. So if I’m able to break him down and be able to get some wins on him that’ll definitely be able to translate over to other tackles in the league.”
Barrett said that the team looked good during the Bucs’ three-day mini-camp and he can’t wait to return to training camp to defend Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl championship after the summer break.
“We were hitting it, but it’s still June,” Barrett said. “You don’t win a championship in June. Once we get back that’s when we lay down the groundwork for the championship and be able to compete again in this upcoming year. We’re going to be ready – we’re going to be hungry. There is going to be no relaxing, no coasting because of what we did last year. Our coaches won’t let us do it. Leaders on this team won’t let us do it. We’re most definitely coming back with a vengeance.”
A lot has changed for Barrett since he arrived without much fanfare as an undrafted free agent from Denver on a one-year, $4 million deal. He shattered Tampa Bay’s single-season sack record, made it to the Pro Bowl, was given the franchise tag, won a Super Bowl and is now a happy camper, averaging $17 million per year on his new deal.
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
But don’t expect the money to change Barrett’s approach to the game in 2021. If you’ve read this far into the story what Barrett says next won’t surprise you.
“It allowed me to find a home and know that we’re going to be here for the next four years to lay down that foundation,” Barrett said of his big contract extension. “It makes us feel secure and stable, knowing that we are going to be here and can build with the team for the next four years.
“It’s a good feeling to have that long-term deal, but nothing really changed. Still prepare pretty much the same way. But I’m still super hungry. I’m ready to show them that I’m worth every last penny that I’m given and show them that I’m one of the best at my position.”
FAB 2. Bucs Can Rule NFC South For Years To Come
The next time the Bucs face wide receiver Julio Jones it won’t be at Raymond James Stadium.
Instead, it will be across the street at One Buccaneer Place.
The Tennessee Titans – Jones’ new team thanks to a trade on Sunday – will hold joint practices with Tampa Bay in August before the two teams square off in the 2021 preseason opener.
Remember that most of that damage occurred to defenses led by Lovie Smith or Mike Smith back when Tampa Bay’s defense was far from being elite. It’s a different story for the Bucs now with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles at the helm.
It’s become a different story in the division, too.
The Falcons are without Julio Jones. The Saints are without Drew Brees. The Panthers are without Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton.
New Orleans, which lost several key players due to the salary cap, will have to choose between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill to replace Brees. An aging Matt Ryan will have to learn a new offense in Atlanta under Arthur Smith, and the Falcons defense is still weak. Carolina is a team on the rise under Matt Rhule, but still a couple of years away from contention. A lot will depend on the development of new quarterback Sam Darnold.
Times they are a changin’ in the NFC South – much to the Bucs’ advantage.
Over the past decade the Saints and the Panthers have ruled the division. New Orleans has won the last four division titles, but its days as reigning champions appear to be over. The Bucs put the Saints on notice with a convincing 20-10 playoff win at New Orleans in January.
Carolina won three straight NFC South titles from 2013-15 and lost its second Super Bowl after going 15-1 in ’15. Atlanta won division titles in 2012 and 2016, also losing its second Super Bowl appearance in ’16.
Tampa Bay’s last division title came in 2007 under Jon Gruden. That’s six head coaches ago for those counting at home. That should change this year as the Bucs are favored to win the division.
Of course the Bucs won Super Bowl LV, and everyone would rather see a Super Bowl championship rather than a divisional championship. Just ask Atlanta and Carolina which have yet to win a Super Bowl.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
It took a while – over a decade – but the Bucs are finally the top dog in the division. How long will Tampa Bay’s reign last?
Many believe the Bucs have a two-year window due to Tom Brady’s contract extension. Assuming Brady will play two more seasons and not have his game fall off a cliff prior to that.
But the Bucs’ Super Bowl window can stay open longer if the team finds the right successor to Brady and the defense remains in the upper echelon. While it would be ideal to find another elite quarterback to step in when Brady retires – as Steve Young replaced Joe Montana in San Francisco and Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre in Green Bay – finding a very good quarterback to pair with a stellar Bucs defense may be enough.
Winning a Super Bowl without a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback can be done. Look no further than Trent Dilfer with the Ravens in 2000 or Brad Johnson with the Bucs in 2002. More recently it’s been Joe Flacco with the Ravens in 2012 and Nick Foles with the Eagles in 2017.
But usually, it’s the non-elite quarterbacks like Kerry Collins, Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck, Rex Grossman, Colin Kaepernick, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo that end up on the losing end of the Super Bowl. What helped Dilfer, Johnson, Flacco and Foles was playing on teams with elite defenses.
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today
Licht has put a strong emphasis on building Tampa Bay’s defense in the draft over the last four years, selecting 18 defensive players as opposed to 11. Fourteen of those 18 defensive draft picks are still on the Bucs’ current roster.
An elite defense can beat an elite offense. Last year’s Super Bowl was a prime example, as Tampa Bay’s defense hounded Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes all night and kept the Chiefs’ vaunted offense out of the end zone.
If outside linebacker Joe Tryon, this year’s first-round pick, can effectively replace Jason Pierre-Paul in a few years, and if Licht can continue to draft Pro Bowl-caliber defensive players like inside linebacker Devin White and cornerback Carlton Davis III then Tampa Bay should be in good shape for years to come past Brady.
FAB 3. Bucs Have Better Backups Heading Into Camp
Aside from seeing which player emerges as the starting running back – Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones II – there won’t be many glamorous, must-see training camp battles in Tampa Bay this year. Most of the battles will be at the back end of the roster for the last few roster spots.
The Bucs’ emphasis in this year’s draft and post-draft free agency was improving special teams, but those players won’t just be counted on covering kicks or in fourth down situations. Bucs general manager Jason Licht and his front office scouts also upgraded the talent among the team’s reserve players.
While training camp and the preseason will ultimately determine which players make the 53-man roster, here is a look at 10 key backup roles that appear to be upgraded in Tampa Bay and the projected leaders for those spots heading into camp.
RB3 Giovani Bernard > LeSean McCoy
Bucs RB Giovani Bernard – Photo by: USA Today
Bernard is a huge upgrade over McCoy from a physical standpoint and will likely take the third down running back role away from Fournette. Bernard has the best hands of any Tampa Bay running back and is the best pass protector. The 32-year old McCoy rarely saw the field last year because his game had deteriorated with age. Not only will Bernard be able to help out on offense, he can also be a factor on special teams, which was something McCoy wasn’t.
S5 Raven Greene > Andrew Adams
Adams was a quality special teams player and an even a decent starter on defense. Greene, who looks much bigger than his listed weight of 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, might have more upside as he enters his fourth year. Aside from starring on special teams in Green Bay, Greene also recorded 52 tackles, seven pass deflections, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception on defense. With Javon Hagan expected to make the team again as the fourth safety, Greene’s biggest competition could come from newcomer Curtis Riley.
TE4 Tanner Hudson > Antony Auclair
Hudson was on the Super Bowl roster last year due to O.J. Howard being on injured reserve. Hudson even dressed over Auclair for the Super Bowl, so it’s only natural that he stick around as the fourth tight end this year behind Howard, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate. But it’s time for Hudson to show up in the regular season – not just the preseason. The team has invested several years in developing Hudson due to great hands. He’ll have to fend off Codey McElroy and newcomer Jerrell Adams, but should be able to do that with continued quality play on special teams.
ILB4 Joe Jones > Deone Bucannon
Jack Cichy and Chapelle Russell, last year’s seventh-round pick, served as the fourth linebacker, but both are gone. The team liked Cichy, but he could never stay healthy. Bucannon was signed on an emergency basis for the Super Bowl, but didn’t return. Tampa Bay added Jones this offseason and drafted K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard on Day 3. Jones is in his fifth season out of Denver, and has played sparingly on defense, notching 29 tackles. His experience gives him an edge over Britt and Stuard, who might wind up on the practice squad, as the Bucs are contending for their second straight Super Bowl.
OLB4 Joe Tryon > Cam Gill
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Gill, an undrafted free agent from a year ago, made the 53-man roster due to special teams ability and the lack of a quality fourth outside linebacker. That changes this year with the selection of Tryon, the team’s first-round pick. Tryon might even be OLB3 at the end of the preseason, stealing that spot on the depth chart from veteran Anthony Nelson. Gill will need a whale of a camp and preseason to beat out Nelson, a former fourth-round pick, to stick around this year. Or convince the Bucs that they need to keep five outside linebackers if he can show he’s become a stellar special teamer.
QB3 Kyle Trask > Ryan Griffin
Is Trask an upgrade over Griffin? Probably not right now, especially from an experience standpoint. Griffin is entering his eighth season in the league and his third in Bruce Arians’ offense. But he’ll likely wind up on the practice squad this year after Tampa Bay invested a second-round pick in Trask, the former Gators star. Griffin has played in just a handful of snaps in a regular season game in his career for a reason. He lacks the arm strength and physical tools to be a starter. After Tom Brady retires Trask will have the chance to vie for the starting job, likely against current backup Blaine Gabbert.
KR-PR Jaelon Darden > Jaydon Mickens
Mickens is a good receiver and a good returner, but the team wanted competition for the return duties and a potential upgrade. That came in the form of the ultra-quick Darden. The Bucs traded up in the fourth round to get the North Texas product, who has drawn similarities to a younger Antonio Brown around One Buccaneer Place. Look for Darden to get plenty of work in the preseason and emerge as the return specialist. He’ll also get a few snaps on offense in the regular season because he’ll be active on game days.
CB5 Antonio Hamilton > Ryan Smith
Bucs CB Antonio Hamilton – Photo by: USA Today
Smith left for Los Angeles via free agency. The special teams stalwart is one of the best gunners in the NFL and he’ll be hard to replace. The Bucs drafted Chris Wilcox in the sixth round to compete with Herb Miller for the fifth cornerback spot, but also added another NFL veteran in Hamilton, who comes with plenty of special teams experience. If Tampa Bay was a young team in a rebuilding mode it might make sense to go with a younger developmental prospect. But with the Bucs in the middle of a wide-open Super Bowl window experience counts. Miller and Wilcox are candidates for the practice squad.
G3 Aaron Stinnie > Joe Haeg
The Bucs spent $2 million on Haeg last year, and outside of his play as an extra run-blocking tight end, the team didn’t get its money’s worth. Haeg struggled at guard against New Orleans on Sunday Night Football. And when Alex Cappa broke his leg at Washington, Stinnie turned out to be a more reliable fill-in starter. Cappa should be able to fend off Stinnie for the starting job in training camp, but Stinnie played awfully well in the postseason and proved he’s an upgrade over Haeg at guard.
C2 Robert Hainsey > Ted Larsen
The Bucs had to shuffle the deck and move center Ryan Jensen to guard for a few games while Ali Marpet was out. Tampa Bay inserted veteran A.Q. Shipley at center and he played well until suffering a career-ending neck injury against Los Angeles. That prompted the team to scramble for a backup center and the Bucs signed Earl Watford and Ted Larsen because of their experience in Arians’ system. Neither were re-signed this offseason. Hainsey, the Bucs’ third-round pick is transitioning from right tackle to center and has a very quick first step that shows promise.
FAB 4. Tryon’s Arrival Puts Pressure On Bucs OLBs Gill, Nelson
The arrival of first-round pick Joe Tryon not only puts pressure on second-year player Cam Gill to try to make the roster again, but also on Anthony Nelson. A former fourth-round, Nelson has been slow to develop as a pass rusher in his first two seasons in Tampa Bay.
Bucs OLB Anthony Nelson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Year three – I’m a lot more comfortable, a lot more experienced,” Nelson said. Just getting better in practice and knowing what things to look for and how to improve with every rep. I feel like I’m getting more out of every snap because I understand the defense better. As far as pass rush, it’s getting your feet more efficient – not wasting steps, being more direct and then just studying the game. Studying what I did last year and studying what other guys had success with.”
That’s important because far too often the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Nelson has been a step away from getting to the quarterback as the ball is being thrown. He recorded his first sack last season at Minnesota and added another one at Washington in the playoffs.
The Bucs also ask their outside linebackers to drop in coverage on occasion. That’s an area that Nelson, who isn’t as fluid as starters Shaquil Barrett or Jason Pierre-Paul, has struggled in.
The fact that he has yet to play a down in a preseason game hasn’t helped. Nelson missed the preseason his rookie season while recovering from a knee injury he suffered in training camp. Last year’s preseason was wiped out due to COVID-19. Nelson is the kind of player who needs the preseason – to play an entire second half in the first and second games and the entire fourth game when there were four preseason games. Those continuous reps would be awfully valuable to help his pass rush develop.
Now with just three preseason games, the pressure will be on for Nelson to make the most of his even more limited opportunities. It’s not like he’s in danger of not making the roster, but few things in life are certain. If Gill or Quinton Bell, who was on the practice squad last year, shows that they can get to the quarterback in the preseason in addition to showing out on special teams that could put Nelson in some jeopardy.
“Cam and Q – those boys both look good,” Barrett said. “Before they had great get-offs and now they’re better with their get-offs. They still use their hands good, and they have good power. Tough decisions are going to be made this preseason for sure. I’m pretty sure those guys have a real, legitimate chance to make the team and actually contributing to the team this year.”
Bucs OLB Cam Gill and DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: USA Today
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Gill, an undrafted free agent from Wagner a year ago, recorded 36 sacks in college and split a sack with Ndamukong Suh in Super Bowl LV. Bell, who is 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, is one of the best athletes on the roster. Bell was a wide receiver at Prairie View A&M up until his senior year. He notched 7.5 sacks during that season and is still learning how to play defense.
Nelson will likely be given the benefit of the doubt due to his experience on defense and his fourth-round draft status to make the team as the fourth outside linebacker behind Barrett, Pierre-Paul and Tryon. But the fourth outside linebacker really has to be a stud on special teams, and that’s what Gill was a year ago. In that respect, Tryon’s arrival applies more pressure on Nelson to be really good covering kicks and punts.
Don’t place your bets just yet, but if you’re looking for a potential upset in training camp and the preseason, don’t be shocked if Gill, Bell or newcomer Ladarius Hamilton grabs the fourth outside linebacker spot away from Nelson.
FAB 5. SR’s Bucs Shots
• TRYON MAKES A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION: After missing the rookie mini-camp and OTAs while he recovered from knee surgery, Bucs outside linebacker Joe Tryon made his practice debut at mini-camp. Tryon, the Bucs’ first-round pick, looked big, fast and flexible. He caught the eye of veteran pass rusher Shaquil Barrett.
“Joe looks really good out here,” Barrett said. “He’s got size, moves really well. When we’re doing ball drills he catches the ball with ease. He’s got great hands and great change of direction. I’m most definitely looking forward to getting here and working with him this upcoming camp so he can start laying down the real groundwork for his future and our future as a team.”
Bucs OL Robert Hainsey – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• HAINSEY’S QUICKNESS JUMPS OUT: Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs’ first exposure to new offensive lineman Robert Hainsey happened at mini-camp. Wirfs liked what he saw from Hainsey, who was a third-round pick out of Notre Dame.
“Today was the first time I’ve gotten to see him,” Wirfs said. “He’s got a great first step. Fires off the ball. He’s got great pad level. … I look forward to getting to know him more and building a relationship with him.”
Hainsey was a three-year starter at right tackle for the Fighting Irish, but will play center and guard in Tampa Bay.
• BUCS MINI-CAMP COVERAGE ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week in the offseason – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET unless there is a special event.
Bucs mini-camp happened this week and that consumed all four of this week’s episodes of the Pewter Report Podcast on our YouTube channel. Check out all of this week’s shows below.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Mark Cook preview Tampa Bay’s 2021 mini-camp and which players they’ll be watching.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Matt Matera discuss what they saw during the first day of Bucs mini-camp on Tuesday.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard is joined by WDAE radio host Tom Krasniqi to discuss Wednesday’s Bucs mini-camp practice.
Pewter Report’s Mark Cook and Matt Matera analzye the final day of Bucs mini-camp on Thursday’s show.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work, or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• JONES WAS A BUC KILLER: The Athletic’s Greg Auman chronicled former Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones’ career against the Buccaneers.
With Falcons’ Julio Jones getting traded to Titans, Bucs no longer must face the player with the most catches (114) and receiving yards (1,841) ever in games as a Tampa Bay opponent. His 11 such TD receptions are second-most ever, behind Sterling Sharpe (12).
• PFF LOVES THE BUCS IN THE TRENCHES: Pro Football Focus loves both side of Tampa Bay’s line. PFF has both the Bucs offensive line and defensive line ranked in their Top 5 units heading into 2021. Well deserved.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – the only team ranked within the top 5 for both OL & DL units
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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