FAB 2. Vea Is More Than A Nose Tackle
I had a brief conversation with Tampa Bay defensive line coach Brentson Buckner about rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea in the locker room following the Bucs’ 27-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Vea, the team’s first-round pick, had a breakout game with four tackles, including three tackles for loss and a sack.
Buckner praised Vea’s play, but said something that really troubled me.
“He’s a nose guard and he made his plays, and that’s what it’s all about,” Buckner said. “We tell him to make the plays he’s capable of making. You don’t have to do anything spectacular. He didn’t take a magic pill to where his arms got longer and he is throwing guys away. He’s just in his gap and using his God-given ability to make plays.
“He’s not going to be an Aaron Donald-type of player. He’s going to be a big run-stopper who is capable of pressing the pocket when he gets his chance. All I expect from him is to play physical football and make everyone’s job better. And when he gets a chance to make his play, make his plays.”
The Big Takeaway
I agree with Buckner that Vea is not a Donald-type player. Very few NFL defensive tackles are. But I don’t think Vea is just a big run-stopper. I think he can be so much more.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht thinks so too, which is why he spent the 12th overall pick on Vea in this year’s draft. Licht wasn’t going to use such a high first-round pick on a run-stuffing nose tackle.
I like what Buckner has done with the defensive line this year, as his unit has recorded 31.5 of the team’s 37 sacks. Last year, under former defensive line coach Jay Hayes, the Bucs defensive line recorded 20 of the team’s 22 sacks, which were the fewest in the NFL. I’m just not a fan of Buckner calling Vea a run-stopping nose guard.
Vea was drafted to replace three-technique Gerald McCoy, which could very well happen as early as next year as the Bucs might move on from the six-time Pro Bowler, who will turn 31 in February, and his $13 million salary.
The Quotes That Matter
• “Well, Vita’s just improved across the board as he’s really gotten into his groove of playing,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter. “I thought Vita was our most dominant defensive lineman yesterday. I thought he consistently got knock-back on the line of scrimmage. I just think he’s gained confidence. I’d say the last five weeks, he’s improved every week. He’s kind of got things where he understands, he knows what to expect now. He’s cutting it loose. He’s not playing tentative. He’s not on the ground as much. Most of his pass-rush comes with power, although he is quicker than he might be thought of for a guy his size. When he’s got good rushers around him, like he does now, and he’s singled up – most people are going to single the nose [tackle] and slide to the three[-technique tackle] – that’s going to give him a consistent one-on-one. He had a good day yesterday pushing the pocket back. If we are playing with a lead more, that will show up more. When you’re playing from behind, that’s going to show up less.”
• “He does have some upside, but he’s not going to be a club-rip or swim kind of guy,” Buckner said. “But he’s going to push the pocket. He’s a big dude that can do that and when the QB steps up, do it. But the ceiling – he doesn’t have one because he’s so young. This kid should still be in college. As long as he continues to develop the sky is the limit for him.”
Stats That Count
• Vea had 9.5 sacks in his three years at Washington, including a career-high five sacks in 2016 and 3.5 sacks last year. Vea played nose tackle and defensive end in Washington’s 3-4 defensive scheme, and he wasn’t asked to penetrate much, so he doesn’t have much experience rushing the passer.
• In 12 games during his rookie season, Vea has three sacks along with 24 tackles with one game left. Legendary Hall of Famer Warren Sapp had 27 tackles and three sacks in 16 games as a rookie with eight starts in 1995. In 2010, McCoy had 27 tackles and three sacks in 13 starts, so Vea’s rookie stats stack up quite favorably with the best two defensive tackles in Tampa Bay history.
The Videos You Have To See
Vea records his first sack on the game in the first quarter, using brute force and great balance to gain leverage and then shed the block by Cowboys left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to capture Dak Prescott. Unfortunately, Vea grabbed Prescott by the facemask, which negated the sack.
Su’a-Filo gets bull-rushed by Vea, who does a great job with his hands at the end to shed and bring down Prescott right before halftime for his first official sack of the game – and third of the season.
The FABulous Ending
I don’t think Vea will be a double-digit sacker in Tampa Bay, but I do think he’ll be able to register seven or eight sacks per season once he develops and gets into his prime. Chicago’s 6-foot-5, 332-pound Akiem Hicks, who plays defensive end in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme, has six sacks and three forced fumbles this year as a Pro Bowler after recording 8.5 sacks last year. Vea can be that type of player, and is fully capable of being a three-technique – not just a nose tackle.