FAB 3. Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions: Defense

We are 12 questions into this year’s Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions and now it’s time to ask – and answer – six questions about Tampa Bay’s defense. Then we’ll do the same for the special teams in Fab 4.

13. Who Will Replace Nassib As The No. 3 Outside Linebacker?

Anthony Nelson is the next in line after starting outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, but don’t count me as being sold on him. PewterReport.com’s Jon Ledyard did an analysis of Nelson’s abbreviated play during an injury-riddled rookie season and didn’t come away impressed.

Nelson looks like Carl Nassib in that he’s similarly built at 6-foot-7, 271 pounds, but doesn’t have Nassib’s experience nor does he have his sack production. Nassib had 12.5 sacks over the past two years in addition to numerous pressures. Nelson posted just eight tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defensed in limited action last year. Yet he was the team’s fourth-round draft pick and has the upper hand in a battle over holdovers Quinton Bell and Kahzin Daniels.

Bucs OLB Anthony Nelson
Bucs OLB Anthony Nelson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

It’s a scary thought thinking about the Bucs’ pass rush if an injury happens to Pierre-Paul or Barrett, as Tampa Bay doesn’t have another outside linebacker with any NFL sacks.

“I’m very comfortable with the pass-rush,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “I think Anthony Nelson was slowed down a little bit last year with his knee, but he showed a lot of good stuff in practice and then when he was in the games, he was very solid. 

“We’ve got some young kids I’m really anxious to see. Kazhin Daniels, Quinton Bell, some guys who got a lot of speed off the edge – [Michael] Divinity, some of these young guys coming in. I’m anxious to get them out there and see what they can do. We need Lavonte [David] and Devin [White] to continue to grow as pass-rushers. I think that part of it is fine.”

14. Is Evans Done As A Buccaneer?

Yes, free safety Justin Evans won’t make the 53-man roster. Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2017 hasn’t played since November of 2018 due to toe and foot injuries. Evans missed all of last year after getting surgery on both of his heels. It was the third straight year Evans saw his season end on injured reserve.

Evans is a talented player when healthy, but the Bucs have serious doubts as to whether he will be able to see the field again, which is one of the reasons why Tampa Bay spent a second-round pick on free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in April.

Bucs FS Justin Evans
Bucs FS Justin Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Justin will probably be on PUP (physically unable to perform),” Arians said. “We’ll see how the right foot reacts. He doesn’t have a lot of time, but he needs to get out there. He’s the only one right now that I think will be on PUP.”

The Bucs did place Evans on the PUP list to start training camp, but it’s doubtful that Tampa Bay will put him on injured reserve again. Instead, the Bucs will move on from him unless he gets back on the field quickly and shakes off the rust in a timely fashion.

15. Is This The Year Vea Really Breaks Out?

Yes. Tampa Bay nose tackle Vita Vea is entering his third year in the league after being the team’s first-round pick in 2018. The 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea has yet to emerge as a pass rushing threat, totaling 2.5 sacks last year after notching three as a rookie. Vea does push the pocket well from the interior, which helps his teammates get the quarterback on the ground, but he’s capable of posting a few more sacks.

Yet Vea’s main value was as a vital cog in Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked run defense. He showed he was capable of taking games over at time with his power and suddenness. Vea should be able to produce more sacks in his second year in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme if he works on his ability to redirect and improves his change of direction laterally in training camp. The guess here is that he finishes with five sacks in 2020 and gets Pro Bowl consideration due to Tampa Bay’s five prime time television games that will get Vea plenty of exposure.

Bucs NT Vita Vea
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Getty Images

“He’s still a raw talent and has a lot to learn, but Vita is a beast,” said Bucs defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches. “Once he realizes how big he is and that nobody can stop him – sometimes when you are young you don’t realize that you can dominate at this level. Once he realizes that, look out. It’s going to be a night and day difference.

“Without question he can be a Pro Bowler – without a doubt. But he has to want to do it. It can’t just be a game here or there. It has to be the whole season. If he decides he wants to dominate he could get 10 sacks – easy. And that’s at the nose position.”

16. What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses On Defense?

Tampa Bay’s strength on defense is its linebacker corps. No team, especially one that runs a 3-4 scheme, has the talent that the Bucs have at the linebacker position. Inside linebacker Lavonte David is one of the best – and most underappreciated – playmakers and tacklers in the NFL. Fellow inside linebacker Devin White, the No. 5 overall pick in the draft last year, is an emerging star and finished his rookie season with four fumble recoveries, including two for touchdowns, in addition to 2.5 sacks and an interception. Both David and White have rare sideline-to-sideline speed and are good blitzers.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

As good as Tampa Bay’s inside linebackers are, the team’s outside linebackers, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, are just as deadly. Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, which set a new Bucs record, while Pierre-Paul had 8.5 sacks in 10 games after returning from a broken vertebrae in his neck stemming from an offseason car crash. Barrett and Pierre-Paul form one of the best bookend pass rushing duos in the NFL.

The weakness on defense is at the safety position where the team has several young talented players, but not much experience. Tampa Bay played four players at safety last year, including Jordan Whitehead, Andrew Adams, Mike Edwards and seldom-used veteran Darian Stewart. That quartet only produced two interceptions in 2019, and more turnovers will be needed from the safety position.

With Evans’ injury all but counting him out, the Bucs may get even younger at the safety position with the team spending its second-round pick on Winfield, who is expected to compete for the starting free safety spot once he learns the defense. D’Cota Dixon is also a talented player that might have made the 53-man roster had he not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in camp, but even if he makes the team this year he doesn’t have any NFL experience.

17. What Is The Training Camp Battle To Watch?

Both starting safety positions are up for grabs, so that’s where all eyes will be in camp. Tampa Bay’s starting three cornerbacks appear to be set with Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean on the outside and Sean Murphy-Bunting inside at nickel. But which two safeties will line up next to that young, talented trio?

The next month will determine that, but given the fact that there will be no preseason games and only 14 padded practices, that all but takes Winfield, Jr., the team’s second-round pick, out of the mix to be a Week 1 starter at New Orleans. The Bucs can’t afford to have a rookie make a coverage mistake against future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in a critical NFC South showdown to start the 2020 campaign.

Seahawks CB Chris Carson and Bucs FS Andrew Adams
Seahawks CB Chris Carson and Bucs FS Andrew Adams – Photo by: Getty Images

Fifth-year veteran Andrew Adams is the most experienced member of Tampa Bay’s secondary and started 11 games last year at free safety. He’ll likely start against the Saints for that reason. Jordan Whitehead started 14 games last year at strong safety and was pretty steady. He has the inside track on starting at strong safety.

Mike Edwards, last year’s third-round pick, started seven games as a rookie, including the team’s home game against New Orleans at nickel cornerback. He’s the biggest contender to start at either strong or free safety, and will join Whitehead and Adams on the field when Bowles goes with a three safety look in dime defense.

Winfield, Jr. will likely see some playing time against the Saints in Week 1 as the team wants to get him some game experience, but it may be a month or two into the season before the rookie unseats Adams at free safety.

18. Who Is The Training Camp Sleeper On Defense?

While it’s tempting to say former LSU linebacker Michael Divinity, whom I mentioned in question No. 4, keep an eye on Bell, the first-year outside linebacker, who spent last preseason with the Oakland Raiders and notched five tackles. He was signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad in November and impressed in practice behind the scenes.

The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Bell was a wide receiver for three years at Prairie View A&M where he caught 19 passes for 259 yards (13.6 avg.) and one touchdown before switching to defensive end during his senior season. As an edge rusher, Bell recorded 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks due to his 4.38 speed and freakish athleticism. Bell posted a 41.5-inch vertical leap at his pro day last year.

Bell is in the mix with Daniels and undrafted free agents Divinity, Cam Gill and Nasir Player, in addition to seventh-round draft pick Chapelle Russell for a roster spot and the No. 4 outside linebacker role behind Barrett, Pierre-Paul and Nelson.

We’re almost done with this year’s Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions. Let’s conclude with a pair of questions – and answers – about Tampa Bay’s special teams.

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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: sr@pewterreport.com
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Horse

This season has so many “what if'” questions because of Covid-19; it’s all a wild guess as to how it plays out as to team performance. I have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff. Go Bucs!

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drdneast

Reynolds writes, “The rest of America has learned how to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic to reopen the economy with precaution.”  To which I reply, BS. I know Reynolds was a Trump supporter, but to continue to spout misleading propaganda without a reply is dangerous and extremely misleading. Florida is currently registering around 10.000 new case of Trumps Virus every day for the last month. At the same time we are averaging nearly 200 deaths a day from this alleged “hoax.” Florida is now ranked second to California in the nation with the number of Trump Virus cases despite being… Read more »

Dbuc63

To people who think independently, another words, people who are not part of a flock or herd, read your posts and lose 20 IQ points. You are laughable to anyone who actually exhibits critical, logical, and rational thinking. I went to speak at my daughter’s classroom (3rd Grade) this past January. It all came to be because her teacher and I discussed at parent/ teacher conference before last Christmas topics she wanted me to share with the children. It is one of the most amazing experiences in my lifetime and I’ve seen a lot. The questions afterwards were a delight… Read more »

Horse

President will be at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair soon. I live on the 4th fairway and the helicopters have been buzzing around here since yesterday and today.
Tell Scott to come over here and he’ll be able to meet him. Oh, I forgot the fundraiser is $100,000 a person. Maybe some of you can chip in for Scott to meet him?
This Vietnam Veteran will never shake the hand of that Bone Spurs coward!

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drdneast

Thank you for your service Horse, especially during a very unpopular war. I voted for Dick Nixon in 1972, my first vote in a Presidential election and when the Watergate investigation began I was completely on his side. But by the time it ended, I had changed my mind and vowed to never give anyone my loyalty when they didn’t earn it and when it was proved they had acted in such a way to betray my trust. It was difficult for me to admit I was wrong for defending him at the onset, but I would rather admit that… Read more »

Horse

Don’t feel alone I voted for Nixon too because he said he was going to get us out of Viet Nam as quickly as possible. That took another additional 30,000 American lives to happen. Also voted for Reagan; just to let some know that I’m not Party affiliated with any. Belleair is loaded with Aristocrats and many had no empathy or understanding how people are suffering especially for someone who is not white. I grew up in this area; there are many good people living here, but there are also a lot of naive selfish people around too. Rate this… Read more »

matador

Another 30k dead Americans was a mortal sin back then. To Trump supporters today the loss of five times that many AMERICAN LIVES is something they wake up deciding to pretend doesn’t matter, is a deep state fake news conspiracy, etc. Until it happens to someone they care about or themselves, after which the hypocrisy playbook says to go radio silent. Pathetic.

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Dave

So because Florida sucks, and is run by a clown who couldn’t be bothered with preparing his state to handle covid properly? That means that Scott’s comment about the rest of the country learning to live with covid and opening up safely is false? I live in Massachusetts, and we’ve opened up the state just fine. Every store has mandatory mask rules, social distancing marks on the floor, no large gatherings, and we’ve had low cases, deaths, and hospitalizations since april. There are PLENTY of states that have opened up safely and are doing fine. At some point, life has… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Dave
drdneast

The rest of the country encompasses Florida. Sounds like MA. has some legitimate leaders but the Bucs don’t play or practice in Boston. We also don’t have mandatory mask rules or anyone who will go into a bar and shut it down when they are still serving liquor and not enforcing social distancing. Unemployment rates will continue to skyrocket not because we are doing the necessary things to quell the virus, but because we don’t have leaders who insist on the public doing the necessary things. Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit… Read more »

Dave

So you pretty much proved my point. Florida is 1 out of 50 states. Florida handling covid poorly doesn’t mean the entire country can’t open up and do it safely. The state has nothing to do with the Bucs. The Rays play in Florida, and have had ZERO covid cases. The Panthers, Lightning, Heat, and Magic all play in Florida, and also have had ZERO covid cases. The Marlins, had their entire team get it, because they’re treating covid like a joke. Point is, the Bucs can play their games, even at home, and have a covid free season, if… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Dave
e

You’re absolutely right, drd. Scott likes stir the pot, but facts are facts. Florida has been the model for how NOT to beat back a pandemic. Sadly, the rest of the world, including out enemies, now how to beat us down without dropping a bomb or firing a bullet…Back to football, If the season is completed; there are going to be major roster adjustments because of covid and it’s anyone’s ballgame at this point. Certainly, the team that practices the most safety precautions will have an advantage over other teams as the season wears on. I can’t say that I… Read more »

drdneast

Dave, you better check the map of the US again, over half the states in the nation have seen a dramatic rise in Trumps Virus case.
You are right about the states that haven’t though. Many of those followed the guidelines of the CDC and are wearing masks.
And you are also right about a good deal has to do with personal responsibility.
By the way Horse, I voted for Reagan too.I also voted for Ford.

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Dave

This is why I can’t take you, Naples, BuccaneerNW, and a few others seriously. What about any of my post or any of this conversation, has to do with Trump. Yet you find a way to bring him up in EVERY single one of your posts. This isn’t a political conversation. It’s a conversation about how misguided your post is, by trying to claim that everything should be cancelled, and nothing should ever open up again because Florida can’t get their act together. And I’ve seen the stats. Not every increase is the same. You have a small handful of… Read more »

drdneast

You are entitled to your own opinion Buc63, but not to your own facts. Especially when they affect the health and welfare of others. Speaking of facts, I see you didn’t address any of the ones I cited, instead you resorted to a personal attack which is a favorite tactic among weak minded individuals without a platform to work from. As far as speaking to third graders, even a third grader with a basic limited understanding of science would follow the guidelines of medical professionals who have a vast knowledge in the field rather than an idiot who suggests they… Read more »

BigSombrero

It’s the same situation for all teams. The Bucs are a veteran team with Brady at the front.

There are no excuses why this team can’t be ready and beat New Orleans week 1.

I’ve got my popcorn ready.

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surferdudes

Horse, you didn’t want to play a round of golf with him? Don’t blame you, he cheats! Thanks for your service Horse. If your daddy was rich, you could’ve danced away the war at studio 54 like commander and chief bone spur! To bad Scott can’t see the man for what he really is. The antichrist!

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matador

Nailed it. Draft dodger. Racist. Congenital liar. Fake Christian. Cheated on his wife, well one of them anyway, with a porn star right after his son was born. Then bribed her to stay quiet. Likely a tax fraud. Clearly a fraud in business with multiple business bankruptcies leaving others holding the bag. At least he has the support of people like DucheBag63 and Scott to cling to.

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Last edited 2 months ago by matador
76bucsfan46

Just wanted to thank you guy’s for ruining our football conversation’s with your politics.

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Naplesfan

There is nothing that is not political when the politician in chief decided to treat a worldwide pandemic as a political event and therefore refused to do his job to protect America and as a result ruined all of our lives and our economy and killed off hundreds of thousands and gave hundreds of thousands more permanent organ damage that they will never recover from.

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scubog

Once again, I awake, but not sure if that qualifies as being “woke” early on Saturday to read the Fab 4 plus self-pimping. I enjoyed the article, but sadly, one little remark about COVID-19 and that opens the lid of the cesspool for you people so intent on spewing your political views instead of your thoughts about the football team you profess to love.

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Dave

It’ll never end. I said this a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again. PR is every bit as responsible for the constant political posts. Because they throw the bait. In their line of work, they’d rather 50 comments be about political bs, than have 10 comments be 100% about football. It’s sad. They throw in covid talk or questions in almost every single article. But the political bs apparently will never go away from this site. It got old 3 months ago. Like you, I’m just tired of it. Talk football or don’t talk. If you want to… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Dave
Naplesfan

What you call “spewing” is what normal people call serious discussion of live altering events and policies that caused them to be literally thousands of times worse and more harmful than was ever necessary You are welcome to keep living in your Trumplican bubble of unreality. More than likey you are old and retired and collecting a pension and Social Security so you don’t need to worry about losing your job and your home and many tens of millions of Americans are forced to do now because of political malpractice that you preferto ignore. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00… Read more »

scubog

You’ve never read anything regarding my political views. I don’t care what you politically focused people think. I just want to discuss football on this forum.

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Horse

scubog, I usually like your comments, but you live in a different bubble than me. Scott lives in your bubble too and see nothing wrong about his world. i have much concern we are heading in the direction of a police state and dictatorship. I am concerned when the head of sheriff departments forget there purpose. We all want law & order and to continually to promote the fear otherwise for political reasons is dangerous for our democracy. Many of us are no longer going to be silent! Scott might take me off this site as I have no intentions… Read more »

scubog

Me writing that I don’t want this to be used as a political forum has nothing to do with my own politics. Don’t know what “bubble” you think I’m in. Probably similar to yours. I even go to work every day right in your neighborhood there in Belleair.

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Naplesfan

Scott still cheerleading for the COVID-deniers, all of them being Trumplican reality deniers. If the nation is learning to live with COVID, it is also learning to die with COVID. Every day this week Florida broke its all time death record. I live in southwest Florida, which is the Trumpiest part of the state (Trump by 26 points in 2016). Yesterday, I went to my local favorite pizza parlour/Italian restaurant to pick up our usual takeout order. Since COVID I have refused to dine in at any restauraunt. I wore a mask, and 100% of the restaurant employees were masked.… Read more »

Horse

The same is still going on in this area too. I went to Verizon Wednesday and was shocked to see some customers not wearing a mask. I said something to the employee who was helping me about it, and he just shrugged his shoulders. I will no longer go to Verizon on the corner of East Bay and Belcher in Largo again. I was wearing a real certified N95 mask too, but it’s still not right for people who don’t wear masks think it’s okay for them to spread the virus unknowingly. Yes Scubog, even on this sight, this has… Read more »

scubog

I have three Bucs masks that I wear when I’m out.

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matador

Well said Naples.
If you support a racist, or play a role in enabling him, then you too are a racist. If you fail to take precautions and help spread the virus, you too have the blood of dead Americans on your hands, whether or not you have the guts to acknowledge it. If you don’t care about that, go the heck to Mother Freaking Russia.

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