The 2022 NFL Season is nearly underway, with the league’s first Week One game taking place this Thursday. The Buccaneers open their season on Sunday, September 11 in a Sunday Night game against Dallas. Here’s a preview of the defense ahead of the season.
The Buccaneer’s defense will have a decidedly different look this season as many of the pillars of the defense have moved on, and the team has brought in some new talent. The Buccaneers needed to get younger and more athletic along the defensive line and linebacker positions, and they did that with the moves they made this off-season. We’ve already previewed the offense, now here is a recap of the moves and the shape of the defense ahead of this season:
The Buccaneers Defensive Line Got Younger, Remains Strong
Defensive linemen N’Damokung Suh was not resigned as the team opted to go younger and not pay an aging veteran nine million dollars per season. Linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul was also not resigned. Both Suh and Pierre-Paul are still unemployed and looking for work. To replace Suh on the defensive line, the team drafted Logan Hall from Houston with the 32nd pick. Hall can play in the defensive line’s interior and line up at linebacker. Hall had six tackles, 13 of those for loss in his final season at Houston.
Hall is a ferocious pass rusher. With the Bucs not being able to pressure the quarterback consistently, Hall should be a big help in that area. Free agent defensive tackle Akeim Hicks signed a one-year contract this off-season after an injury-riddled season in Chicago. Hicks played in nine games registering 25 tackles and 3.5 sacks. When healthy, Hicks is a top ten tackle. Pairing Hicks with Vita Vea and Logan Hall makes the Buccaneer’s defensive line a top-ten unit in the NFL.
William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and Patrick Oconner will round out the defensive line.
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The Heart Of The Buccaneers’ Defense Lies With The Linebackers
The Buccaneers starting linebackers are one of the best units in the league. Shaq Barrett, Devin White, Lavonte David, and the second-year linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will start for Tampa. Tampa Bay drafted Tryon-Shoyinka last season with the idea of replacing Jason Pierre-Paul.
Barrett led the league in sacks in 2019, and with Hall and Hicks on the defensive line to draw double teams, that should free Barrett up to get to the quarterback more often. Once you get past the starting four, there is a bit of a concern with the depth. Cam Gill was placed on injured reserve, and the team traded Grant Stuard to the Indianapolis Colts. The good news is the Buccaneers may have found some depth in undrafted Olakunle Fatukasi.
Fatukasi came out of nowhere to impress the coaches and earn a roster spot. Fatukasi led the team in tackles in the preseason with 19 and registered 3.5 sacks. “He forced himself on this team,” head coach Todd Bowles said. “He made us take notice, and he was consistent.” Fatukasi also caught the eye of his teammates.
All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David talked about what Fatukasi brings to the playing field. “Instinctive, toughness, athletic, everything he does, he just does it well, does it smooth, and he knows where he’s supposed to be on the field every time.” Fatukasi will see some time at linebacker, but much of his playing time will come on special teams. David and White’s play dropped significantly from their Super Bowl season of 2020. Both suffered injuries last season, and David admitted that he was about 60 percent in the playoffs. The Buccaneers need a healthy David and White to make a deep playoff run.
Buccaneers Secondary Should Be Deep, But Will Injuries Persist?
The Bucs have had one of the best run defenses the last three years, so teams have gone pass-happy against the Bucs secondary. As a result, the defense allowed 445 completions last season, which was the most in the NFL. This offseason, the Buccaneers lost safety Jordan Whitehead from the secondary as he signed with the New York Jets in the off-season.
After Whitehead left, the Bucs were determined not to let another one of their best secondary players go, so they signed Carlton Davis to a three-year 44 million dollar contract. Davis has also been injury prone in his time with the Buccaneers. He missed seven games last season but still had 11 passes defended. Davis dropped a lot of balls last season, and that will be a focus for him this season-finishing.
Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield, and Mike Edwards all return in the secondary. The secondary got better this off-season with the addition of Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan. Ryan was an excellent leader last season in the Giants locker room, and that is one reason the Buccaneers wanted him in Tampa Bay to mentor and help lead this young secondary.
The team also added some depth in the secondary by drafting Zyon McCollum from Sam Houston State, who has 4.33 speed. Top to bottom, the Bucs are the best team in the NFC South. As a result, the Bucs should not have a problem winning their second straight division title. Depending on your hierarchy, the Bucs are among the best teams in the NFC, along with the Rams, Packers, and 49ers.
Tom Brady came back to win a Super Bowl, not lose in the first or second round of the playoffs. I like the Buccaneers’ chances of winning their third Super Bowl and second Super Bowl in three years. The offense and defense are both improved, and Brady still has that competitive fire burning to be competitive. I like the Bucs to defeat the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl and send Tom Brady into retirement as a winner.