Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Linebackers high on Tampa Bay Buccaneers' list of needs at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — So much about the Bucs remains a mystery, even as draft preparations start to ramp up with this week's Senior Bowl.

The team has yet to hire a coach. Even when it does, it will remain unclear what type of defense it will employ until a staff is in place.

But this much is unequivocal: The Bucs' defensive performance in 2011 can't be repeated if a turnaround is in the team's future.

In their effort to improve their 30th-ranked defense, don't be surprised if Tampa Bay embarks on a search for more playmaking from its linebackers, a position that was under great scrutiny during the season.

One possible source: April's draft, where some candidates will be available, including some participating in this week's senior showcase.

The outside linebacker talent is likely to draw more attention from the Bucs. Mason Foster, though still raw, proved adequate at middle linebacker as a rookie this season. (It remains to be seen if a new staff keeps him there.) But weakside starter Geno Hayes struggled and could become an unrestricted free agent in March. Strongside starter Quincy Black is just one year into a five-year deal but also underperformed.

Outside linebacker options being evaluated here this week include Nebraska's Lavonte David, North Carolina's Zach Brown, Texas' Keenan Robinson and Miami's Sean Spence.

Brown has impressed onlookers, showcasing the speed he believes will set him apart from his peers.

"Brown can run like the wind," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said after Tuesday's South team practice.

But the former Tar Heel runs with one purpose: take down ballcarriers. He describes himself as a sure tackler.

"As a tackler, I do whatever I have to do to get a guy on the ground," said Brown, 6 feet 1, 236 pounds. "I'm locked in when it comes to that. I had to remind myself out here (at practice). I had a chance to take out a running back, and I had to hold up a little.

"But I don't miss a lot of tackles because I take a lot of pride in my tackling. I try to make sure that if you come my way, you're going down."

Another projected 4-3 linebacker worth tracking is David. Considered undersized at 225 pounds while at Nebraska, he fits the mold of some Tampa Bay linebackers of the past.

If a team can live with his lack of bulk, it will acquire a player whose production can't be questioned. Playing at a school with a legacy of producing defensive talent, David ranks fifth in school history with 274 tackles. Like Brown, David's speed is hard to miss. He also showed a knack for playmaking.

For many years, that was a quality that characterized Bucs linebackers. But not last season.

Spence, a high school teammate of David in Miami, believes he possesses the ability to make game-changing plays NFL teams expect from their linebackers.

"I think (scouts) will see that I'm a playmaker," Spence said. "I think I'm very instinctive, and I'm a guy who is going to play hard and sell out for the guys who are around me. I'm also a three-down linebacker."

Spence played mostly on the weakside at Miami but has extensive experience in the middle and on the strongside. His size is an issue, too. The All-ACC pick measured just under 6 feet and 228 pounds but still managed to play physical football.

This linebacker class doesn't include a player who seems worthy of the Bucs' No. 5 overall pick. But with high second- and third-round picks, Tampa Bay will get a chance to address the need.

And given the results in 2011, there's little doubt the Bucs need the help.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs and follow him on Twitter at @holderstephen.

Comments
Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who was trying to resurrect his career with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, said Saturday that he is retiring from football.Freeman, 30, was a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2009 and was their starting ...
Published: 05/26/18
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Published: 05/25/18
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been generous with his time, staying after practice to work with younger players. That should be a real added benefit for first-round pick Vita Vea.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"That's my M.O.'' Mc...
Published: 05/25/18
The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

TAMPA — Only three players in NFL history have posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in each of his first four years seasons: Randy Moss, A.J. Green and the Bucs' Mike Evans.RELATED: More Bucs coverageBut by Evans' standards, 2017 was "proba...
Published: 05/25/18
Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

TAMPA — If the first few days of OTAs are any indication, the Bucs secondary could be much improved.Completions may be down, interceptions should be up.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"A lot of interceptions,'' coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday' afte...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

TAMPA — This much is clear: The National Football League is focused on getting rid of kneeling players.That was the league's announcement Wednesday in requiring players to stand during the national anthem before games or possibly have their tea...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Two high draft picks that could earn starting jobs signed four year contracts with the Bucs Thursday.The team signed Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team's first-round pick.Terms of the deal were not released, but Vea  is expected to r...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs offensive lineman Ali Marpet questioned the legality of the NFL's new  policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if t...
Published: 05/24/18
Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

The dust has settled from another NFL draft, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht has made three promotions in his scouting department as a new year of player evaluation begins.Byron Kiefer, entering his 14th season with the Bucs and fourth as a nati...
Published: 05/24/18