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FAB 3. Battle Of The Bucs’ Backups: Defense

Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the battles for the Bucs’ backup spots on offense, let’s finish up this analysis by turning to the defense. All of Tampa Bay’s starters on defense return from 2019, so the competition will be fierce for the reserve roles in training camp this year.

Sixth Defensive Lineman

Jeremiah Ledbetter
Patrick O’Connor
Benning Potoa’e

Bucs DL Pat O'Connor

Bucs DL Pat O’Connor – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Analysis: The top four defensive line spots on the depth chart appear to be filled with nose tackle Vita Vea, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, defensive end Will Gholston and reserve tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Khalil Davis, the team’s sixth-round pick this year, has the inside track to replace Beau Allen at defensive tackle and the fifth spot on the depth chart at defensive line. So there will be a battle royale between Ledbetter, O’Connor and Potoa’e for the final spot on the depth chart. The Bucs love O’Connor’s toughness, quickness and determination. He’s come a long way over the last two years and has added size to his 6-foot-4, 270 pound frame. O’Connor’s value is as a nickel interior rusher. Ledbetter got off to a hot start in training camp, but then cooled off and got injured. At 295 pounds, Ledbetter is the most versatile and can play all three interior positions, but his best spots are at defensive end and defensive tackle rather than nose tackle. His size gives him an advantage, but he’ll have to outperform O’Connor in camp and the preseason to seal the deal. Potoa’e is an undrafted free agent who played at Washington with Vea. He’s a 290-pound nose tackle that will prove he is versatile enough to play more than one position.
Inside Track: Ledbetter

Fourth Outside Linebacker

Quinton Bell
Kahzin Daniels
Michael Divinity
Cam Gill
Nasir Player

Analysis: Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul return as the starters. Barrett, who made the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with a franchise-record 19.5 sacks, was tagged as the team’s franchise player, while Pierre-Paul was re-signed to a two-year deal. Expect both to be double-digit sackers in Todd Bowles’ defense. Tampa Bay couldn’t afford to keep Carl Nassib, and Anthony Nelson, a fourth-round pick from a year ago, will likely be the third outside linebacker on the depth chart to replace him.

That leaves an open roster spot for the fourth edge rusher, and the Bucs like 2019 practice squaders Bell and Daniels so much that the team didn’t draft an outside linebacker this year. Divinity, Gill and Player are undrafted free agents that will offer competition. Divinity hails from LSU and is the most recognizable name, but didn’t test well at the NFL Scouting Combine. Gill brings speed off the edge, while the 271-pound Player brings size and power. All three will likely be competing for a practice squad role while Bell and Daniels duke it out for the final spot on the 53-man roster at the OLB position. The 253-pound Bell has more size than the 240-pound Daniels, and that might make him the leading contender heading into camp.
Inside Track: Bell

Fourth Inside Linebacker

Jack Cichy
Noah Dawkins
Chapelle Russell

Bucs LB Jack Cichy

Bucs LB Jack Cichy – Photo by: Getty Images

Analysis: Lavonte David and Devin White are two of the most athletic, dynamic and productive inside linebackers in the NFL. David is a Pro Bowl-caliber player who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, while White shook off an early injury to become a playmaker for Bowles’ defense by midseason. Kevin Minter returns as the veteran reserve inside linebacker capable of backing up either White or David, so that leaves one more inside linebacker spot available on the depth chart. Cichy has the inside track if he can stay healthy, as he has been a core special teams player the last two years and really developed on defense last preseason. Cichy has seen both of his seasons in Tampa Bay end prematurely due to injury. Dawkins was added last year after training camp and has legit 4.41 speed, which helped him contribute to special teams. He’s the biggest threat to Cichy due to his athleticism, but he has to prove in camp and in the preseason that he knows Bowles’ defense. Russell is the Bucs’ seventh-round draft pick and is a long shot to make the team due to his suspect tackling and instincts.
Inside Track: Cichy

Fifth Cornerback

M.J. Stewart
Mazzi Wilkins
Parnell Motley
Herb Miller

Analysis: Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean cemented the top three spots on the depth chart with their play on defense last year, especially down the stretch. Veteran Ryan Smith returns to claim the fourth spot on the depth chart, but his real value is on special teams where he is an ace. That leaves one more spot open on the depth chart. Stewart, a second-round pick in 2018, should have the inside track for the job, but his lack of speed and athleticism has made him a liability on defense, and he might struggle to beat out a less-heralded player for a roster spot. Wilkins and Motley pose the biggest threats to take Stewart’s spot on the depth chart. Wilkins was a practice squad player who was signed to the active roster down the stretch, and Motley, an undrafted free agent, hails from Oklahoma and is battle-tested from playing against some quality receivers in the pass-happy Big 12 conference. Miller offers great size and length at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and could be a dark horse.
Inside Track: Wilkins

Fourth Safety

Andrew Adams
D’Cota Dixon
Justin Evans
Deiondre’ Hall
Javon Hagan

Bucs S Andrew Adams

Bucs S Andrew Adams – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Analysis: The top three safeties on the depth chart are Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards and Antoine Winfield, Jr., who was Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in April. If he was healthy, Evans would be among those names and a potential starter at free safety, but he’s battled foot injuries since 2018 and missed all of the 2019 campaign. Adams led the Bucs in interceptions in 2019 and was re-signed last year after camp to steady the ship at free safety after Edwards, who was the team’s third-round pick, struggled. He brings the most experience to the safety position. The Bucs were high on Dixon, a former undrafted free agent, in training camp, but a shoulder injury in August required surgery and cost him his rookie year. If Evans is healthy and can return to form, he’s the guy to beat. But Dixon and Adams are serious contenders, too. Newcomers Hall and Hagan appear to be long shots.
Inside Track: Adams

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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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1 year ago

Scott, I can certainly see how this is a different situation than you and the others at PR have faced before. There has to be a lot of guess work for you and your staff regarding the players on the Bucs team due to the lack of contact with the coach’s and players. Could these bad things happen? Yes, of course, but it is only right that you advise the Bucs fans that bad things could still happen. I think that if there should be an announcement one day that a new medication had been discovered, that may be the… Read more »

1 year ago

I still have no idea why you guys are so high on Tyler \Johnson that you are already dusting off a space for his name on the Bucs Ring of Honor. He’s not considered especially speedy and he didn’t even run a 40 at the Combine to hide the fact. The jump to the NFL from college is extreme and their have been certified No. 1 picks who had trouble making the adjustment. In fact, we had one here last year by the name of Breshard Perriman. Until Jojnson goes through a training camp, I wouldn’t be so fast to… Read more »

Reply to  drdneast
1 year ago

Trust me, as a former slot/possession WR, you don’t need to be incredibly fast if you understand and can perform precise route running. That is precisely what Tyler Johnson does. It’s not like they are touting him as a Pro Bowerl, we’re talking about the 3rd WR spot lol.

1 year ago

After reading the first page of this article I quit. I don’t understand the overwhelming negativity. I’m not looking for fluff articles and I’m not trying to be overly harsh, but this Fab 5 was awful.

Reply to  Wausa
1 year ago

I make it a habit to not complain about stuff I get for free. Considering the lack of sports and available material to write about I am amazed at the quality of the content that Pewter Reports puts out on a regular basis.

Last edited 1 year ago by gcolerick
1 year ago

Why do I get the feeling that now that Scott’s daughter is going to Kan St, all the Bucs best bets in the draft will be from there! lol

1 year ago

“Resurgence?” Doesn’t it have to go down before it can resurge? Florida is over 60K infections. The challenge for the NFL is immense. How do you manage training camp and locker rooms with 90 players and a couple dozen trainers in camps? With players from all over the country in the most “contact” sport ever known? Empty Stadiums are a probability. The smart move would be to have empty stadiums through the pre-season, and see where the infection levels are among NFL Teams in the last week. I will miss up to date reporting during camp. I know this has… Read more »

1 year ago

Scott, can someone please tweet or text Brady to start wearing some Buccaneer shirts?

The Freeman
The Freeman(@the-freeman)
1 year ago

“Hudson made the practice squad as a receiving tight end following a great preseason and was later signed to the active roster to replace Auclair.”
Hudson was on the 53-roster all season!
inactive list until the bye week, then on the active list…
only inactive again for week 16 (Concussion).

1 year ago

There are some players in this article I hope make a big leap, in their 2nd year. Nelson is one and Bailey is another.
Nelson was injured alot last year, so I hope he is in great shape this year. Bailey was also injured. Cincey I like but seems to be injured alot. Go Bucs: And Covid 19 go the Hell AWAY!!

The Wall
The Wall(@the-wall)
1 year ago

Scott, I look forward to your Fab 5 every week. Couldn’t get past #1 this time. Are there any worst case scenarios you can think of ?

1 year ago

Scott, sounds like you need some anxiety meds for all the worrying you’re doing lol. Anyways, loved reading the article and thinking about the battles for the last few spots on the roster. For the 3rd WR job, I think it’s Scotty Miller’s to lose. If you think about what BA is looking for at that position, it’s speed. He wants to stretch the field in that package and neither Watson or Johnson have what Miller has in that department. If Watson can catch the ball in preseason games like he does in practice, maybe he can beat out Miller?… Read more »

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