Tampa Bay was only able to muster up one sack in its 2019 season opening loss to San Francisco due to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo getting the ball out of his hand so quickly. Getting only one sack from Todd Bowles’ blitz-happy defense was a bit of a surprise, but it wasn’t a surprise that it came from the team’s quickest pass rusher, new outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
Barrett came off the left edge of the defense in the second quarter and dropped Garoppolo for an eight-yard loss to set up second-and-18 at the Tampa Bay 27. Two plays later, 49ers rookie Deebo Samuel would fumble on a wide receiver screen pass and the Bucs would get their second turnover of the game.
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“It felt good, I’m not going to lie!” Barrett said. “It felt good to start the season with a sack and get to the quarterback. I just need to keep it up and hopefully create some turnovers to help the team out and get some dubs (wins).”
Listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds – perhaps generously – Barrett doesn’t look any bigger than star inside linebacker Lavonte David or rookie Devin White. But size doesn’t matter at linebacker in Bowles’ defense – speed does.
And without the services of premier pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who led the team with 12.5 sacks last year in his first season in Tampa Bay, the Bucs are counting on the speedy Barrett to bring some heat off the edge. Barrett was tied for the team lead with two sacks in the preseason, including a sack-fumble in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s win at Dallas.
“You saw him have two sacks in the preseason and he had a big game in the last one,” said Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson. “He was way better than the guys he was playing against, but that’s what you like to see. He dominated. What I like about Shaq is that he’s going to bring the pass rush. He’s shifty and he’s shaky. He’s been studying under Von Miller for years out in Denver, so he’s going to bring some of that Von Miller to us here. He’s not Von Miller, but he brings some of that slick pass rush to us.
“You see Carl Nassib on one side with straight power, power, power – and effort. Then you see a guy like Shaq who is more shifty and shaky, and will try to beat you inside and outside. We have two different guys on each side, which is good. I think Shaq had a good training camp and I think he’s going to have a really good year.
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Barrett, who is 26, has five years of experience playing in Denver’s 3-4 scheme opposite Miller, so he’s well-versed in rushing the passer as a stand-up outside linebacker.
“This defense is similar, but it’s also a lot different,” Barrett said. “It’s a 3-4 defense, but the play-calling is really different. I thought my preseason was okay, but it was nowhere close to where I want to be. I have a lot to build on. I think I did okay, but it’s not the way I wanted to perform. I’m looking forward to having a good season to showcase what I can really do.”
Multiple sources within the walls of the AdventHealth Training Center told me prior to training camp that they believed Barrett would lead the team in sacks with Pierre-Paul’s absence for the first half of the year. Barrett has plenty of believers inside the locker room, too.
“He’s special off that edge,” Bucs inside linebacker Kevin Minter said of Barrett. “He has some moves. His spin move is crazy. He’s got the dip-and-rip. He’s definitely bringing some of that JPP back into this defense. He’s going to be a premier pass rusher. I’m excited for him. Don’t be surprised if he has a great year. I’m talking like 10-15 sacks. He’s capable of that. Coach Bowles is going to dial him up and he can’t miss the lay-ups.
“He’s filling a void and we need him. “B.A. (Bruce Arians) is always talking about the next man up, and that’s Shaq. He has some big shoes to fill with JPP being out, but he’s been in this league long enough to where he knows what it takes. He’s a pro. He’s fairly young, but he’s an older dude, too. He has a family and he has his priorities right. I think he’s focused going into the season and I’m expecting big things from him this year.”
Having Pierre-Paul’s presence on the weak side of the defense last year helped Nassib get a career-high 6.5 sacks. The hope is that Barrett, who now has 15 career sacks, can cause enough pass rush on one side to draw attention and free up Nassib to get some one-on-ones on the other side.
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Getty Images
“Shaq is like a seasoned vet,” Bucs defensive tackle Vita Vea said. “He knows what he’s doing out there. As camp went on I felt like he and Carl really worked with each other to get that chemistry down. Shaq was up there with Von Miller so he learned a lot under his wing. He brings a lot of knowledge to the game and to this defense. He’s versatile and has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He has some nice moves that he can use and counter off of. He has a nice arsenal of moves.”
Barrett can win with speed off the edge like he did against San Francisco, but he also has a wicked inside spin move that he used in the Miami and Dallas games, too.
“People say that you have to have one really good move, but I have a lot of moves to keep guys guessing,” Barrett said. “I’ve been working on some power moves because I was always finesse growing up my whole life. So I’m just working on power moves to keep them guessing.”
Barrett, who signed a one-year deal worth $4 million with Tampa Bay this offseason, needs to start stringing sacks along to help the team, and that means chasing around Cam Newton on Thursday night in Carolina. While Barrett may be leading the charge he can’t be the only one. It will need to be a team effort to contain the scrambling Newton and bring him down.
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“What I like is that there are opportunities for sacks in this defense for everybody,” Barrett said. “The plays will be there to be made, we just have to make sure that we make them. I’m making my plays for sure. We’ve got a bunch of playmakers on this defense, including me.”
As he proved in the preseason and in Week 1, the Bucs’ pass rush starts with Barrett.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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