This SR’s Fab 5 column on the Bucs is exclusively serviced by Discount Garage Doors – the official garage door company of PewterReport.com. If you are in need of a new look for your garage doors or if you are in need of repairs, turn to Discount Garage Doors. Whether it’s a broken cable or springs or a crooked door, Discount Garage Doors can help you out. Click here for a list of locations as Discount Garage Doors services 17 Florida counties and The Villages.
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE! Protect your house with hurricane-preventative supports for your garage door. Call 866-420-DOOR or visit DGDoors.com to view Discount Garage Doors list of services and garage doors that can be installed to improve the look of your home. And remember, Discount Garage Doors offers FREE service calls. Don’t wait – call today!
Mention PewterReport.com and SAVE 10% OFF your order or service call at Discount Garage Doors!
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs OLBs Ready To Make Some Noise
There’s no doubt that Jason Pierre-Paul and his 12.5 sacks will be missed in Tampa Bay this year.
The Bucs are hopeful that Pierre-Paul will be able to return from his neck injury – he suffered a fractured vertebrae in his neck from a car crash in May – by October or November at the latest.
Tampa Bay is also hopeful that a quartet of edge rushers can step up in his absence. Actually, the Bucs really need that quartet of Carl Nassib, Noah Spence, Shaquil Barrett and rookie Anthony Nelson, the team’s fourth-round pick, to step up in his absence.
On paper, it’s a tall order as Pierre-Paul’s freakish athleticism allowed him to record 71 sacks during his NFL career – winning Super Bowls and making Pro Bowls along the way – and ending the double-digit sack drought that had occurred since Simeon Rice had 14 sacks in 2005. Barrett has recorded 14 sacks in his five-year career in Denver, while Nassib came to Tampa Bay with 5.5 career sacks from his two years in Cleveland before racking up a career-high 6.5 last year. Spence has just 6.5 career sacks, but 5.5 of them came as a rookie three years ago.
Nelson’s sack totals climbed each year he was at Iowa where he recorded 23, including 9.5 last year as a senior, but he’s yet to play a down in the NFL.
Playing as a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker will be a new position for everyone but Barrett, who played in a 3-4 scheme in Denver opposite Von Miller. Even Pierre-Paul has never played in a 3-4 defense before, but due to his athleticism and pass rushing experience one has to think he would still find a way to lead the Bucs in sacks this season if he were healthy for 16 games.
Tampa Bay will be lucky to have JPP for six to eight games this year if he can fully recover from his neck injury, and the team is counting on Nassib, Spence and Barrett, who are all in contract years, to provide a steady pass rush outside to compliment the pressure inside from defensive tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh and interior blitzes from linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David.
“You’re going to miss a guy like JPP because he’s a good football player,” said Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson. “You can’t replace him. There’s nobody on our line that can do what he can do, but you can’t underestimate guys like Carl and Noah, who get an opportunity because that’s what this game is built on – opportunity. Those guys practice hard. Noah is going balls to the wall, and even Carl and the young rookie are playing hard. The whole defensive line as a whole is playing hard and relentless. Anytime you have that good things can happen for you. I’m really interested to see this defense. These OTAs and the mini-camp, guys are going hard and hitting – it’s almost like training camp. I’m interested to see how it’s going to be when the pads come on.”
Nassib, a player I dubbed “Carl Nasty” last year due to his physical style of play, has been the stand out this spring. Team officials quietly believe he can become a double-digit sacker this year with a new contract coming around the corner, while Spence has also looked much more comfortable as a 3-4 outside linebacker than he ever did as an undersized 4-3 defensive end.
“[Noah] is an outside backer and he’s doing a good job,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “He’s applying pressure. Carl is probably doing the best job out of that whole group because he’s a high effort guy all the time and a guy you want to set the tempo.”
Nassib had a career year last season playing opposite Pierre-Paul after coming to Tampa Bay as a waiver wire pick up before the season opener at New Orleans. He took advantage of an early season injury to Vinny Curry and staked his claim to the strongside defensive end spot last year, but how will Nassib fare this year as a marked man with JPP’s help from the other side?
“You’re going to know more once the pads come on, but Carl’s game is playing hard and physical,” Dotson said. “When you are in OTAs you can’t really get the full dimension of it, but Carl goes hard. He plays hard and sticks his head in there and he doesn’t quit. When he gets the pads on – he’s a different guy. He’s a balls-to-the-wall kind of player.”
The 6-foot-7, 275-pound Nassib rushed as a stand up pass rusher at times last year in some blitz packages and is a very smart and aggressive player on the left side of the line that might prove capable of getting 10 sacks or more this season if he can get help from the right side of the line. That’s where Spence and Barrett – a pair of 6-foot-2, 250-pound speed rushers – come in.
Barrett was just a role player last year in Denver, recording just three sacks, as the Broncos spent their first-round pick on Bradley Chubb, who had 12 sacks as a rookie playing opposite Miller, who led the team with 14.5 sacks.
“He’s a very athletic and a very hard working guy,” Nassib said of Barrett. “He’s a good leader and I’m excited he’s on our team.”
Despite being completely healthy for the first time since his right shoulder was surgically repaired, Spence rarely played last year because defensive line coach Brentson Buckner favored bigger, longer edge rushers in Tampa Bay last year. Spence is transitioning back to a two-point stance as a stand-up edge rusher like he played at Eastern Kentucky in 2015, racking up 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles en route to becoming the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2016.
“It feels so natural for me to be back in this two-point stance,” Spence said. “I feel like I can get so much more leverage and see better playing like this. It’s been a blessing being able to play in this scheme with this team. The shoulder injury is all behind me and I’m 100 percent healthy this year.
“This feels more natural. I don’t have to get down every play. I can stand up and look down at the ball. Instead of trying to fix my stance every play I can get my get-off set instead of trying to worry about how comfortable I feel in my three-point stance. It feels good. Every day we’re trying to get to the ball and make plays. This group is looking great – I love it.”
Dotson has been a fan of Spence’s for years and sees a different, hungry, more confident pass rusher this offseason.
“He looks like he’s home now – 1,000 percent,” Dotson said. “That’s what I told him the other day, ‘You look like you’re more natural because you’re standing up.’ He’s quick and he’s twitchy. If he can start turning that speed to power he’s going to be an even better football player. A lot of guys are going to be down with his speed, but if he can turn that to power it’s going to bring another dimension to his game that is going to make him better. The guy is good, and he’s getting better. You have to watch him. He got me today with a little inside move and he’s got a little more speed with him. As long as he keeps his confidence up I think he has the chance to be a good player for us.”
While Nassib and Spence have been the starters, Barrett and Nelson have flashed off the edge, too. Newcomer David Kenney, another 6-foot-2, 250-pounder who won a roster spot after a try out during the rookie mini-camp, has also shown the ability to rush the passer with his quick get-off. It will take a collaborative group effort for the Bucs’ new outside linebackers to try to make up for the production lost with JPP’s absence, but they are up for the challenge.
“I’m excited,” Nassib said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work and I’m looking forward to it. Everybody has got to contribute this year – it doesn’t matter if you are a rookie or a 10-year vet. Missing Jason hurts and we’ll get him back whenever he possibly can return, but he’s a great leader and a great person. We’re all going to step up and help our team win.”
Bucs inside linebacker Kevin Minter, who played in Todd Bowles’ defense back in Arizona, feels confident in this group of talented edge rushers at outside linebacker despite their lack of experience and collective career sacks.
“Don’t get me wrong – it’s hard to replace JPP, but those guys are trying to make some noise this year,” Minter said. “They’re trying to make some noise and make some cash this year. You have three hungry guys sitting right there in contract years. Noah has obviously been biding his time waiting to play in a scheme that actually fits him. Shaq Barrett came here to make some noise, and Carl, I know he wants to be the guy he was drafted to be. All three of those guys are hungry.
“We actually have a pretty dangerous outside linebacker room right now. The rookie (Nelson) is looking pretty good, too. It’s a real confident group – even without JPP. Hopefully we’ll get him back at some point. He would be a huge piece for us later. I think they’ll hold it down for us right now. If we’re rolling and JPP comes back midseason, it can’t do anything but help. At the same token, I promise you that those guys are coming to get it this year.”