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FAB 1. Who Is Going To Lead The Bucs In Sacks?

Gerald McCoy led the Bucs in sacks from 2013-17. With him as the only talented big name player on Tampa Bay’s defensive line, it was easy to pencil McCoy in as the team’s leading sacker each year despite the fact that he never produced a double-digit sack season.

Last year, many – including yours truly – expected newly acquired defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to lead the Bucs in sacks, which he did with 12.5. Pierre-Paul had twice as many sacks as McCoy did and became the first double-digit sacker in Tampa Bay since Simeon Rice last accomplished that feat in 2005.

Now McCoy is gone – off to Carolina after being a salary cap casualty following the draft.

Pierre-Paul is still in Tampa Bay, but might be relegated to playing just half a season due to a broken vertebrae in his neck that occurred when he was in a car crash back in May.

Will JPP be the same when he returns? What kind of impact will he make on Tampa Bay’s 2019 season? I explore the answers to those questions in Fab 2.

But it would be very optimistic to expect Pierre-Paul to miss all of training camp and the preseason, as well as the first half of the season and still wind up as the Bucs’ sack leader this season.

So who is going to lead Tampa Bay in sacks in 2019?

I asked several members of the Bucs defense in the locker room and the question left a bewildered look on everyone’s face.

Nobody knows.

Without McCoy and Pierre-Paul, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be the Bucs’ sackmaster this season.

“We could have a lot of guys with a lot of sacks, but maybe not a double-digit sacker – who knows?” said Bucs defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who is also known by his “Nacho” nickname. “I definitely see us spreading out our sacks kind of evenly. There are so many different packages – nickel, base, sub with people coming from everywhere. I don’t see one person taking all the sacks.”

Bucs DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches

Bucs DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Through four preseason games the Bucs produced 14 sacks, led by linebacker Shaq Barrett and defensive linemen Nunez-Roches and Pat O’Connor, who each had two. But perhaps more importantly, 12 players had at least half a sack. The pressure that new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles brings with his exotic blitz packages gives all 11 defenders a chance to rush the quarterback at different times.

Tampa Bay’s change to Bowles’ 3-4 scheme not only shifts the landscape of the Bucs defense, which has been a 4-3 front since the days of Sam Wyche in the early 1990s, it also means that the team’s leading sacker might not be a defensive lineman. The last time that happened was when outside linebacker Broderick Thomas had 11 sacks in 1991 under Richard Williamson.

Carl Nassib, who played defensive end last year in a 4-3 scheme before becoming an outside linebacker in Bowles’ defense, had a career-high 6.5 sacks last year playing opposite Pierre-Paul. Nassib had a great camp, is becoming a leader on defense with the absence of McCoy and Pierre-Paul, and is poised for a big season in a contract year. I expected that a lot of his teammates to suggest that he would be the leading sacker this year, but that wasn’t the case.

“To be honest with you, I would put my chips on me,” Nunez-Roches laughed. “You really can’t know who is coming or where the pressure is coming from because we’re going to come from all angles. We’re all going to eat at the end of the day.

“That’s why I love this defense – the disguises. Everybody comes from different angles at different times. You can’t just hone in on one person or one position. Who are you going to double team? It keeps the offense honest.”

O’Connor, who started the offseason as a 6-foot-4, 270-pound outside linebacker, moved inside to defensive line during camp, which is where he played as a defensive end over the last two years on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster and practice squad. He posted his second sack of the preseason in the team’s 17-15 win at Dallas and believes the Bucs defense is at a distinct advantage entering the season with this new scheme and the fact that there is no Pro Bowl pass rusher to game plan against.

Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett

Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“There’s no marked man,” O’Connor said. “Anybody on our defense can just roll out and go make some plays. It’s going to be interesting. A few days ago Nacho had two sacks and I had one the week before and the week before Carl had one, so it can be anyone at any time. It’s going to be interesting to say the least. It takes a lot of stress off of everybody. You don’t have to worry about being ‘the guy’ and everybody can just go play.”

Last year under new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, the Bucs had 10 players produce 38 sacks, which was a huge improvement over the previous year when the front seven had just 22 sacks. That got former defensive line coach Jay Hayes fired after the 2017 campaign – and with good reason.

Of those 38 sacks, the Bucs only had three players with five sacks or more, with 31.5 of those sacks coming from six defensive linemen. Tampa Bay didn’t blitz its linebackers much under former defensive coordinators Mike Smith and Mark Duffner, and the unit only produced 6.5 sacks from four linebackers. The defensive backs didn’t record any sacks, as they weren’t typically involved in the blitzes.

When Bowles first become a defensive coordinator in Arizona in 2013 during Bruce Arians’ first year as the Cardinals coach, 14 players produced 47 sacks, led by linebacker John Abraham’s 11.5. Six linebackers produced 25.5 sacks and five defensive linemen registered a total of 18.5 sacks, led by Calais Campbell’s nine. Bowles also got two sacks from safeties on blitzes.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles

Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In 2014, the Cardinals didn’t have Abraham, and their sack total dropped to 35 as a result. Still, 16 different players recorded at least one sack that year, with 17 sacks coming from eight linebackers, 14 sacks coming from four defensive linemen and four sacks coming from the secondary with two safeties and two cornerbacks each getting one quarterback capture.

The loss of a proven pass rusher like Pierre-Paul for at least half the season will force Bowles to manufacture pressure by blitzing more players from different spots on the field. The Bucs might get somewhere between 35-40 sacks with 14-16 different defenders combining for that production.

Tampa Bay likely won’t have a double-digit sacker this year due to JPP’s injury, and for the first time in a long while that may be okay. I could see four or five defenders getting at least five sacks this year and another 10 chipping in with one or two here or there, to cobble together a pretty decent pass rush.

And while the Bucs didn’t have a defensive back record a sack last year, look for that to change in 2019 as Bowles like to blitz the nickel cornerback about as often as Monte Kiffin did with Bucs Ring of Honor inductee Ronde Barber, who finished his legendary career with 28 sacks from blitzing.

“The pressure can come from anywhere – even from us DBs,” said nickel cornerback M.J. Stewart. “It’s a very aggressive defense. We’re going to mess with teams and get them to turn one way and we’ll come the other way. That’s how we’ll get them.”

Bucs S Darian Stewart – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Barber had a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2000, including 3.5 in the first two games, which made him the Bucs’ leading sacker heading into Week 3 that year – ahead of Warren Sapp.

“That would be cool if I did it, too,” Stewart said. “There are a few times where the line turns away from me, and the protection turns away from me and I’m free and I just beat a one-on-one block. I’m looking to get a few sacks this year. I’m going to be in the race. It’s definitely possible because we do a lot of things that involve the nickel. I’m looking forward to getting some sacks.”

So who is going to lead the Bucs in sacks this year? I’ve had some sources at the AdventHealth Training Center tell me they think it’s going to be Barrett, who has the most of any healthy outside linebacker with 14 in his NFL career – not including Pierre-Paul’s 71. Ndamukong Suh has 56 career sacks and can’t be counted out, either.

My money is on Nassib with Barrett being a close second. I think “Carl Nasty” wants to make a statement this year and earn a big-money contract in 2020. I say he leads the team with eight.

“Carl? He’s going to be tough to beat, but trust me – M.J. is going to be in there, too!” Stewart said with a laugh, tooting his own horn.

“I have no idea who is going to lead the team in sacks,” O’Connor said. “It’s kind of fun. It’s definitely going to be a weekly fight to see who ends up with the most.”

The sack battle begins against Jimmy Garoppolo next Sunday when San Francisco comes to town.

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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 Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for 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:
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2 years ago

Shaq Barrett looks special, could be sack leader.

Easythe great
2 years ago

Hudson, Cichy and O’Connor should make this team. Sorry Spence, time to finally be released from this roster.

Reply to  Easythe great
2 years ago

With how many sacks. 4?

2 years ago

Good Fab 5 Scott. For the first time in a very long time, I’m feeling like the team is a real NFL team. I still have some doubts about a few areas, but they have diminished over the course of training camp. I don’t know how well this team is going to behave, but I feel like that the so called ‘experts’ have written us off and are going to be surprised.

I’m pretty certain the defense is going to be a lot better than people expect.

2 years ago

Unless JPP blew all his money he’s made on fireworks, and expensive cars which he probably has, why would he want to risk his health with this neck injury? Gronk hung it up due to the pain of playing, and Luck shocked the football world by walking away while he can still walk. JPP has made more money then Gronk during his career so why? Love of the game, I doubt it. As you can tell I’m a skeptic by nature so I think he’s just trying to get his last 7 million he’ll ever make as an NFL player.… Read more »

2 years ago

If he actually gets to play enough, Shaq Barrett will lead this team in sacks as long as JPP is out

Captain Sly
Reply to  Makski13
2 years ago

I must confess that Shaq Barrett has impressed me. I wasn’t sure what we were getting come over from Denver but he has shown that he’s going to have to be accounted for coming off the edge. Speed Rush, Bull Rush, a Spin Move occasionally he’s mixing it up pretty good in there and I think he leads us in sacks this year. The other thing I can’t way to see is when Vea lines back up next to Suh, if its anything like camp where we saw lineman bodies being thrown off the field we could see sacks coming… Read more »

2 years ago

I like the rising of Cichy and really the overall depth we have at just about every position whereas before I believed us to be a bit shaky in areas. I believe alot of guys will shine but I see our safeties and linebackers blowing up. Sure our CB’s will impress but I’m of the mind they’ll find their footing after 3 or 4 games but believe the safeties and linebackers will hit the ground running.(pardon pun) I’m hopeful Cappa learned something in Cleveland and all the “correctable stuff” verbiage is right on. I feel it to be. And, when… Read more »

2 years ago

I do not know! I do not think anybody knows who will come forward on the D , The mystery will start to unfold on the 9th against 49ers, I think that game will be a big tell for the season, Bucs have had no trouble beating 49ers last few years, this year there’s so many changes with a different system, coach and a lot of new faces and there is also the Jimmy G Factor.
At this point it is a waiting game.

2 years ago

This coaching staff has made a world of difference. Looking on the sidelines, you see and feel a real difference. The game management, especially at the end of games has been extraordinary. I like BA’s not-so-quiet confidence. I expect there might be some early struggles but after the first six games, most of the teams on the schedule are beatable. Fans need to stay positive. This coaching staff has credibility and they are imposing the will of accountability. I think we can win any game we hold the opposition under 25 points.

Reply to  buddah
2 years ago

Did I miss something here? since when did coaches start making sacks? You might be right though. With this defensive line of the Bucs? Coaches might need to suit up!!!

Reply to  twspin
2 years ago

Ha! Of course coaches don’t literally make the sacks. But coaching puts players in position to make the sacks. The scheme is modern–finally. It’s an attacking, aggressive mode of defense grounded in deception. It will take time to master, but I really trust Bowles and his defensive staff, particularly the secondary coach who is worlds ahead of what we’ve had since Lake left.

2 years ago

I think Lavonte David will lead the team in sacks. Last time he had a legitimate chance to rush the qb consistently i believe was under greg schiano and he posted 7 sacks i believe. I could see him getting to a similar number in this scheme which I think would lead the team

2 years ago

Suh leads in sacks if Vea plays next to him most of the year.

2 years ago

Interesting tidbit re: McCoy’s complaint about his jersey # being given to Suh; Clay Matthews’ # was given to a rookie after he wasn’t re-signed after 10 years with the Packers. It’s a business for sure..

2 years ago

Bill Belicheat has trade for 3 OL in the last 48 hours for depth. Licht hasn’t done anything.

Reply to  Bucsfan1983
2 years ago

That’s because the New England Pats and Belicheat are WINNERS. They have a burning desire to WIn.To stay on top. They identify deficiencies and take care of them quickly..not in 3 or 4 yrs. The Tampa Bay Bucs are somebody’s hobby. And I feel sorry for the fans who have to watch the hype and consistent losing year after year. The O line we have is just a tad above average. It needs some reinforcement badly. But the defensive line is even you shall see. GO BUCS…Just try to Win 8 games and a lot of us will be… Read more »

2 years ago

I have really been pleasantly surprised with many of the developments this year. Going into camp and the pre-season, after the draft I had last year’s defensive backs in a precarious status to even make the team. I thought MJ would likely not survive the cuts. I had Carlton Davis making the team but only has a backup. And Whitehead struggling too. I was completely wrong. Davis will likely be a star in the secondary. MJ has really played well. And Whitehead looks to make the team and likely start. The negative surprise is that Bunting looks overwhelmed, Dean seems… Read more »

2 years ago

8-8 Neha but now 9-7 and I will be happy.

Go Bucs !!!

2 years ago

Winston hasn’t held this team back from the playoffs, the defense and it’s ex so called leader have.

2 years ago

Would love to see a rundown/appraisal of our competition in the NFC South. Now is the time. Assuming Brees stays healthy and does not play like a 40 year old, hard to see any other team finishing ahead of them. But are Carolina and Atlanta improved?

2 years ago

Broderick Thomas had 11 sacks in ’91, which was the last time a non defensive lineman led the team in sacks. I have an autographed poster of the “Sandman” tackling Barry Sanders in my office. Great poster. This defense is going to be fun. I think they have a chance to be a shut down defense. They’re all swarming to the ball with attitude and the defensive backs are playing fast and physical. The front 7 are bringing heat from everywhere and batting balls down. They could use more turnovers, but I think that will pick up during the regular… Read more »

2 years ago

Surprisingly, Bob has had a couple of positive comments recently. Even garnered a few thumbs-up. Could it be that twspin is gaining on him as the most doom and gloom poster? Say it isn’t so Ethel.

Reply to  scubog
2 years ago

Voting on comments, especially down votes, is cowardly and lazy. When a post doesn’t conform to a person’s rose-colored thinking they down vote instead of making a well reasoned reply. It seems like the comments section around here are consistent for the most part and that’s partially because of the voting feature.

For the record, I gave you a thumbs up because of your avatar.

2 years ago

I think they may share the same Bridge 😂 Don’t let Trolls fool you, their compliments are underhanded and any praise is only to lure you in.

2 years ago

Re: “But what has held him back from greatness – and the team back from the playoffs – is his penchant for untimely turnovers.” I couldn’t disagree more. Since Jameis has been QB, the Bucs have posted all of one season where they weren’t 21st or worse in scoring defense. What happened that year? The Bucs went 9-7 and barely missed the playoffs. We’ve all seen comparisons of Winston to some great QB and how their TD/INT ratio was not much better than Winston’s and often was significantly worse, and those “great QBs” won tons more games… but EACH of… Read more »