FAB 2. Violent Vea Coming On Right Now
Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea hasn’t finished his rookie season, yet many have improperly used the “bust” label on him already. Simply put, those people are stupid.
On Sunday in Baltimore, when he was a game-wrecker, notching a career-high nine tackles, which was second only to Lavonte David’s 12 tackles, Vea was hardly a bust. Nor was he a bust when he recorded four tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in a win against San Francisco a month ago.
Vea isn’t a bust. He’s a young defensive tackle that missed virtually all of training camp, all of the preseason and the first three games of his rookie season with a torn calf muscle. Some suggested Vea was a bust in September before he even played his first down in the NFL. Vea wasn’t a bust. He was injured.
And Vea isn’t a Pro Bowl safety, either. Vea’s critics are merely unhappy that the Bucs drafted him instead of Florida State safety Derwin James.
The Big Takeaway
After an understandable slow start to his rookie career as he recovered from his calf injury, Vea has come on over the past month of the season. Vea has recorded 18 tackles and one sack in the last four games after posting just three tackles and one sack in the first seven games in Tampa Bay. Vea has started the last six games at either three-technique for Gerald McCoy when he was injured, or at nose tackle alongside McCoy most recently, supplanting Beau Allen in the starting lineup.
Before the 49ers game, Vea got a pep talk from the man that drafted him in the first round, general manager Jason Licht, who said he wanted to see him become more of a violent ass-kicker on the field. Vea took that message to heart and has earned Pro Football Focus grades of 85 (49ers), 67.1 (Panthers), 70.4 (Saints) and 91.2 (Ravens) over the last four games.
The Quotes That Matter
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter has really liked what he has seen from the big 6-foot-4, 347-pound rookie defensive tackle over the last month.
“Just the continuation of what he’s done here in the last three weeks or so is Vita is really starting to play exactly like we watched on his college tape,” Koetter said. “He’s playing violent, he’s running to the football, getting off blocks so much better and making plays laterally as well as just knocking the line of scrimmage back. It’s too bad that Vita had to start the year off like he did missing those eight weeks, but he’s really starting to come into his own.”
Vea, who was seen shoving Ravens offensive linemen after a few plays last week, agreed that his taken his game up a notch from a violence standpoint.
“I feel like as a D-lineman you have to be violent,” Vea said. “It’s just the position you play in. It’s what it demands of us, so you’ve got to be violent to get the job done. … [Licht] just came up to me at practice and just told me to be violent. “Same thing that Buck [defensive line coach Brentson Buckner] has been telling me. But hearing it from him and going into it, he sees the bigger picture, so going back into the meeting room and finally understanding it – finally everything is making sense.”
Outside of Licht, Vea’s strongest ally is fellow defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has served as a mentor this year for the rookie. McCoy was thrilled with Vea’s dominate, nine-tackle game at Baltimore on Sunday.
“He’s just realized that you’re in the NFL now, and you just can’t play the game anymore with size and speed and ability, it’s not enough anymore,” McCoy said. “The NFL, it’s got to be something else, and he realized that he has everything necessary, and he’s just using it. I talked to him before the game and I told him ‘Hey V – hey man, this is old-school NFL football, man. This is the type of football you’re going to play today that you ain’t never experienced. You’re going to have to really bring it, man, because these guys, that’s the style they play. Whoever you go at, man, just attack them. Kill the person in front of you. I don’t care if you’re not at your gap – destroy the man in front of you.’ And he did that.
“You’re not going to see a lot of splash plays like in the run game and stuff, so with Vita in Baltimore, it’s just when the run was coming to him, he would just shed blocks. V was getting a lot of single blocks, and you get a guy like that who is getting confidence and is that powerful, and that’s what you’re going to get. Even in the doubles, he’ll just take one guy and just throw him. He’s just in place, and that’s what we’re called to do. I think with the style he plays, that he is going to do nothing but get better. I think he’s going to finish the year strong, and whatever happens after that happens. I’m happy for him, man, I’m glad he’s starting to get a feel. You can tell that he’s starting to have a lot more fun and just being more free. You take a guy like that – ironically, it’s crazy, he played like that in Baltimore where the other guy (Haloti Ngata) made a living – so I’m just happy for him, man. He played a great game.”
The Stats That Count
Speaking of Ngata, the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2006, he finished his rookie season in Baltimore with 31 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Vea had nine tackles in Baltimore, which was nearly half of the production he’s had all season in just one game.
Vea’s 21 tackles this year trail Pierre-Paul’s 50, Carl Nassib’s 27 and McCoy’s 23 along the defensive line, but are ahead of Vinny Curry’s 19 as well as Beau Allen, who was the team’s starting nose tackle earlier in the season. Allen has 16 tackles this year.
I’m not comparing Vea to McCoy or the legendary Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in terms of skill set because Vea’s game is much different than that of Sapp or McCoy’s from an athletic and quickness standpoint. But it’s worth noting that with two games left in his rookie season that he compares favorably from a statistical standpoint to McCoy, who had 27 tackles and three sacks as a rookie that started and played in 13 games in 2010, and to Sapp, who had 27 tackles and three sacks in 16 games as a rookie with eight starts in 1995.
The FABulous Ending
It took Vea a while to find that sweet spot between attacking the guard and staying on his man to free up the Bucs linebackers – as this defense calls him to do – and shedding the guard at the right time to make plays in the run game. Vea is doing that now and finding success. Ngata went on to have five Pro Bowl seasons in Baltimore, and if he continues to ascend, Vea has the talent to do the same thing in Tampa Bay.
In this microwave, on-demand, impatient instant-gratification world we live in today, Vea is a bust because he only has 21 tackles and two sacks – and his name isn’t Derwin James. But let’s give Vea a chance to learn the game and develop for another year or two before idiotically throwing around the “bust” label. Great defensive tackles are hard to find, and that’s why best ones are typically drafted in the first round. Vea has first-round talent and through more violent play lately, he’s beginning to show some first-round production, too.