FAB 3. Versatile Vea Helps Tampa Bay In Many Ways

If you think the Buccaneers drafted a big, run-stuffing defensive tackle with their first-round pick you’re sadly mistaken. Vita Vea is so much more than a 347-pound space-eater.

Vea wasn’t even called a defensive tackle at the University of Washington. He was called a defensive lineman because he played the three-technique and the five-technique positions in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 scheme in the Huskies’ multiple defensive alignments.

And yes, Vea also played the one-technique nose tackle spot when Washington was in a 4-3, and the traditional zero-tech nose tackle position when the Huskies were in a 3-4.

Bucs DT Vita Vea - Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington
Bucs DT Vita Vea – Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington

“It’s great because he understands both schemes,” said Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. “It’s the way we train our guys. They can go into any system in the NFL. I’m not completely in tune with what Tampa is doing now, but if it’s a four-man front he’s going to be able to play the three (technique), play the nose, play the shade on a center or a guard, and play that A-gap. Teams are going to have to donate two guys to make sure that guy is blocked. If they single him up, he is going to make the play, and if they stay on him and double him other linemen are going to make plays.”

The fact that Vea played a multiple defense like Washington’s where he had a one-gap responsibility as well as two-gap, it’s that kind versatility really attracted the Bucs to him from the start. Initially Vea will cross-train at both nose and three-technique as a rookie, but he’ll eventually replace Gerald McCoy years down the road.

“One of the things we liked about him was that he could play anywhere along the line of scrimmage, including the five-technique with his athleticism and length,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “Yes, we do feel like he could be a three-technique, but every player is different.

“He has a little different style than the initial get-off that Gerald has. It’s going to be a combination of quickness, agility and power. When Mike Smith was the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville he had John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Neither of them were ideal three-technique the way fans think off Warren Sapp and McCoy. Mike had a lot of success there with two giant guys. If you have two good defensive tackles you can make this defense work.”

Vea is certainly a giant guy, and that has created a buzz at One Buccaneer Place, especially among the linebackers, who will benefit from him drawing double-team blocks.

“I still haven’t seen him but the buzz around the locker room is that he’s s a big guy,” Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. “So, that’s my anticipation right now just to see how big he is at first and then we’ll see how he does on the field.

“With our division, you have a lot of teams that run that zone running scheme. So when you have a guy who can get up field and disrupt or a big guy who takes up two guys, it’s really smooth for linebackers to flow and get downfield to make more TFLs (tackles for loss). So we’re looking forward to that.”

Bucs DT Vita Vea - Photo courtesy of the Univ. of Washington
Bucs DT Vita Vea – Photo courtesy of the Univ. of Washington

Lake said to not let Vea’s modest sack numbers – 9.5 career sacks – bother you. The All PAC-12 defender wreaks so much havoc and disruption by collapsing the pocket that he creates sack opportunities for others.

“He is going to do so much to relieve pressure for the whole defense,” Lake said. “Whether it’s the linebackers in the run game or the back-end in the pass game. That’s what he’s going to be doing. I think with interior linemen like Vea, he doesn’t have the pressure of having to be big sack guy his first year just because he is a first-round pick. His production is really going to be helping those linebackers making tackles untouched. All of a sudden the running lanes and both A-gaps are stuffed.

“For Bucs fans, they aren’t going to see him breaking through and getting a whole bunch of stats. The casual fan looking at his stats might be like, ‘Where is this guy? Where are all his stats?’ Yet they see all the linebackers having 10-plus tackle games, and that’s going to be a pat on the back to him.”

Lake said that Vea’s two best games last year came in a 44-23 win over UCLA and in a 41-14 win over No. 13 Washington State in the Apple Cup rivalry game. Vea dominated in both games, yet only had three tackles, two pass breakups, one tackle for loss and one sack against the Bruins, and two tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and half a sack against the Cougars.

“The Washington State game stands out in my mind because they threw the ball so much and we had a three-man rush and he was so disruptive. They are trying to block our three with five offensive linemen and he just causing havoc.”

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was sacked five times, fumbled once and threw three interceptions in that game against the Huskies. I caught up with him at the Senior Bowl and asked him about Vea’s performance.

Bucs DT Vita Vea - Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington
Bucs DT Vita Vea – Photo courtesy of Univ. of Washington

“That guy – you watch him on film and you understand how good he is, and then you play him and you realize he’s even better than you thought,” Falk said. “Their game plan was really, rush three and drop eight into coverage. Vita made it feel like we were getting rushed by six guys. He’s an incredible player and I have nothing but respect for him. I think he’s going to be great in the NFL. He’s special. You don’t find guys like him that can move like he does. It’s only once in a long while that you see guys like him.”

Although he had only modest stats against the Bruins, Vea made his mark against UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, knocking him out of the game.

“In the UCLA game he knocked down Rosen and caused a concussion in that game,” Lake said. “Kudos to the Bucs G.M. down there, and the whole scouting department for getting a creature like Vita. They don’t grow on trees. This is a once in 10-15-year player. He’s going to change the game for those guys down there. It’s awesome that they went with the size and the power of a Vita Vea instead of another type of player they could have drafted.”

Vea will surely have an impact during his rookie season, even if it’s as a rotational player at first, rotating with McCoy and nose tackle Beau Allen. But Licht’s selection of Vea wasn’t just to help the present day Buccaneers. It was also also a pick for the future.

“Drafting Vita wasn’t us saying, ‘Now we’re going to find the successor for Gerald,’” Licht said. “I don’t see Gerald retiring or out of the organization in the foreseeable future, but it is true that it does take these guys some time playing at NFL speed with leverage, hands, understanding the scheme and what we are going to ask our defensive linemen to do.”

The selection of Vea also gives the franchise some extreme flexibility scheme-wise in the future. A few years down the road when players in or around their 30s like McCoy, Vinny Curry or Jason Pierre-Paul are gone, and if defensive coordinator Mike Smith moves on, perhaps to become a head coach again, Vea’s versatility allows the Bucs to possibly convert to a 3-4 defense down the road.

“Vea can play multiple positions and that nose spot would be one he could handle, but if he were in a traditional 3-4 scheme, where is his best fit?” Licht said. “It is the nose or the five [technique]? It might even be the five. He’s just so rare in that sense because he has the ability to play everywhere. He’s so versatile.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

21 COMMENTS

  1. Great work on the Fab 5, Scott… and yes, Mark, Trev and the crew do a great job keeping all of us “football geniuses” well informed throughout the year and I certainly appreciate it. I think that the talent level is not longer the question. It’s there. The questions that I have now are… Is Koetter the coach to take this team to the next level and is Smitty’s scheme going to work now that we have the talent in place? Oh, on a side note; I’m noticing that the PR website is freezing as I scroll to the bottom of the pages?

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    • e, I can give you a possible reason why that is happening. My internet security has blocked 143 data collection attempts via this website after being on it for 25 min. This site and one of my e-mail accounts get the most blocked data information attempts. We all know about tracking so I’ll leave that up to you…

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      • Thanks for the update, DBuc! I’m not super savvy on the inner workings of websites… Is it from PR or outside sources?

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  2. I am looking forward to see this Defense Line this year.

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  3. First, gotta give credit to Pewter Report for the great scoops leading up to the draft. I feel like PR readers are more informed than 99% of all other fans because of the great work you guys do. So many hits across the mock drafts and Best Bets. Kudos.

    That said, that was quite the puff piece for Vea. I have all the hope that he succeeds, but forgive me for being skeptical that a guy who had 3.5 sacks his senior year at college can be a viable NFL pass rusher. If he cant, then this is a blown pick. His career will always be compared to Derwin James’s for me. Only time will tell if Licht made the correct pick.

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    • This tells you who the educated fans are versus the uneducated fans. If you think Vea getting 3.5 sacks is going to decide whether this is a blown pick or not, you really need to take up a different sport as a hobby. Because that’s so far from the reason they drafted him it’s not even funny. There’s so much more that goes into it. If the Bucs didn’t have McCoy, yeah I’d agree that maybe 12 is a little too high for Vea. But his job is not to get sacks. His job is to completely shut down the run and demand double teams so that McCoy( who’s never in his life seen a one on one), and JPP, can can get freed up to get to the QB. It’s as simple as that. His job as a freak athlete of his size is to stop the run, get push up the middle, and let McCoy and JPP wreak havoc. Just by the teams DLine roster alone, it was the perfect pick. Anyone that knows anything about football knows this was a brilliant pick. Who made that Ravens Defense so good for years? It wasn’t Suggs, and it certainly wasn’t Reed, it was Ngata. His presence freed the rest of the DLine up. Anyone that says the Bucs should have drafted James is delusional

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      • Hey, Dave. Go fuck yourself!

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      • Seriously, what an insufferable prick you must be

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  4. I am really, really, hoping that Benenoch can beat out Sweezy at RG. Sick and tired of this dude being on the roster.

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    • I believe with Benenochs athleticism he should be able to unseat Sweezy. He has very good movement for a guy his size and he should excel in our zone scheme. Hopefully this 3rd year is the year he finally puts it all together.

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  5. Great job PR Staff! FAB 5 and Cover 3 are AWESOME!!

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  6. Great draft coverage guys! I razzed ya about the James and no trade back predictions only because I didnt agree. You guys got me turned onto Cappa and Watson well before the draft. And others like Nathan Shepherd who Ive become a big fan of. I thought Licht had a great draft. Ive been calling for him to trade back more and luckily it worked out perfectly this year. Go Bucs

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  7. Licht and Co should be applauded for acquiring the draft picks they did given what the team started started the draft with. If you rate a DT and a SS the same, you take the DT every time. NFL games aren’t won by the teams with the best safety play but largely on who can control the line, as the 5-11 Bucs can attest to.

    Unfortunately the decision to sign DeSean Jackson to the 11mil/yr deal ended up costing the team a 3rd round compensatory pick as it offset much of the 16 mil that Mike Glennon received from the Bears. At the time the draft hadn’t occurred and receiver was a weakness, but with Evans, Brate, Howard, Humphreys and Godwin, Jackson ended doing more harm in costing the team a high compensatory pick, cap room that could have rolled over and blocking playing time for Godwin than any good it did.

    One of the most overrated things I’ve ever heard is when a GM crows about the value they received in the draft relative to their board. In 2016 Licht proclaimed that VHIII, Spence and Aguayo were all 1st round graded players on their board. At the time Scott crowed about the Bucs acquiring that much perceived talent. The problem is, they have to play football first before you hand the GM and scouts any awards. It’s like choosing to go to a restaurant that you rate really highly only to get food poisoning. Just because you thought it would be good doesn’t mean that it won’t end up going through you in a hurry. The hope is they’ve learned something and can keep some of the momentum from last years draft going.

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  8. Good Fab 5 Scott; you did a good job defending the pitch Licht gave as to that line of draft logic. I still say we are short 1 or 2 DE’s for our pass rush. I didn’t see the need for a DT when DE was still a priority, but I understand the logic behind it. When we traded down to 12th spot, I was hoping we were going to trade down again as I still saw the need for DE.
    My other comment is about Swizzy and his health issues; might be time to bite the bullet and move on and use the savings to sign Smith & Alexander. I got it Jackson, Humphries, Conte, Gholston, Fitzpatrick cap space will be used to sign Winston to a new contract.

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  9. Enjoyed the article Scott. It always amazes me how wrong I’ve been over the years when trying to construct my war room and plan my strategy for the draft. I aways find out after the fact that what I am thinking and what the Buc’s are thinking couldn’t be farther apart. The problem is I get most of my analysis from outside sources like ESPN, NFL.com, DRAFTEK, etc. Hence when one of your mocks come out i don’t recognize half the selection you project. Since the draft however I have researched the picks and now I see why we would take a Vea over a Fitzpatrick or why If Nelson was not available we would not drop to James if Vea was still on board. I had no idea we have been Following this kid for 2 years. For most of us fans it’s smoke and mirrors, but every year I dive back in and every year I walk away scratching my mead. One side bar if I may, what is the physical condition of Tu’ikolovatu? Can you imagine a goal line stand with Vea and him crowding the middle?

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  10. Another site quoted Licht as saying Cappa would start out playing right tackle, who’s right? I think his body type, long, and leaner then most guards would make him a better tackle prospect. It’s great to have position versatility if you’re drafting a player to be a back up along the line but, I believe if you need to find a starting right tackle, draft a player who’s been there done that well at a high level during his college career. Nobody was clamoring over Q. Nelson for his ability to play any position on the line. I also don’t know why Licht likes to get to cute drafting players from small schools, I think he got lucky with Marpet who should be a pro bowl R.G. by now instead of moving to a new spot every year. I watch alot of SEC games so it’s hard for me to believe there wasn’t a better option then Cappa.

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  11. Really enjoyed the inside scoop about Jason Licht’s Draft process Scott. That’s why we come to this site. I learned a long time ago that what the “experts” say isn’t necessarily what the teams think and certainly not gospel. Looking forward to Training Camp and getting Pinkstob’s take.

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  12. Great article! Its really nice to hear that Licht was just as pissed about the Dline as much of the fans were. He saw what we saw and did a great job revamping the trenches.

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  13. Excluding the RB and Guard, my board lined up with the Bucs board. Chubb, Vea, James. I would have been happy with any of them at 7 but Im overjoyed about getting Vea at 12 along with the two additional 2nd round picks.

    When we are contending for a Superbowl in a few years we will look back at this draft as the reason for our success. Vea is going to make the entire front 7 better.

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  14. Excellent article! A+

    This is the kind of info I want to see you guys at PR produce from time to time.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Go Bucs!!!!!

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  15. Scott, A+ specifically for Fab 1 that is.

    Is Trevor PR’s equivalent of Rob McCartney or Jon Spytek? Is Mark your guy like Mike Greenberg?

    Don’t answer that. 🙂
    ________________
    Go Bucs!!!!

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