Bucs' strong-side linebacker spot one to watch
The Bucs selected a cornerback, defensive tackle and a pair of defensive ends in the NFL draft.
They did not, however, pick a single linebacker, a decision that speaks volumes.
The Bucs – and the rest of the NFL – think weak-side starter Lavonte David is an emerging star in the league. And everything he’s shown indicates they’re right.
Mason Foster has been adequate at middle linebacker, although you could still argue he’s better suited to play outside. But his production can’t be questioned, and David’s ability to handle defensive play-calling duties (and the wear the helmet transmitter) has lightened the load on Foster.
But the questions emerge when we get to strong-side linebacker. We don’t know who the starter is going to be now that Quincy Black has been released because of his career-threatening neck injury.
But the Bucs didn’t feel it necessary to address the position in the draft because they like the current candidates to step in.
We know very little about the guy who coaches seem to think has the inside track at winning the job: former Saints backup Jonathan Casillas. He was signed as a free agent in March and will get a long look when offseason practices begin this month. But until coaches see more of him, they’ll be reluctant to assume anything.
For that reason, don’t rule out the other possibilities. Dekoda Watson’s limited playing time can make him easy to forget, but he’s a young, athletic player whose time might be now. Watson has been flirting with a bigger role for a couple years, with former coach Raheem Morris trying to maximize his talents as an edge rusher in Morris’ old “Redskin” third-down package. But Watson is going to have to show an ability to be disciplined to become a full-time linebacker. His reputation as a hard worker and willing student suggests he can do that.
The Bucs also have another two possibilities that you, perhaps, didn’t consider: veteran Adam Hayward and second-year man Najee Goode. Hayward has, at various points, played all three linebacker spots and is more than capable of playing the strong side. Whether he can outplay others is the question.
Goode is a player the Bucs have been high on since drafting him in the fifth round last year. We haven’t seen enough of him to make any judgments, but he’ll be in the mix for more playing time this year.
Strong-side linebacker is something of a part-time position, with that player leaving the field in exchange for a fifth defensive back when the defense goes to the nickel package. But it’s a key position on early downs, with many run-stopping responsibilities.
While the Bucs have a majority of their starting jobs already locked in, they’ll have a very legitimate competition at this spot.
When OTAs get underway on May 20, strong-side linebacker will be one of the areas to pay close attention to.