TAMPA — The Bucs' biggest play on defense in Sunday's win against Atlanta started with linebacker Dekoda Watson, 240 pounds, lining up at defensive end across from a 320-pound offensive tackle.
Watson sped around former Buc Jeremy Trueblood and got a hand on quarterback Matt Ryan, whose pass was intercepted by linebacker Mason Foster and returned for a touchdown and 17-3 lead. Watson, who has had cameos as a rush end, is now working full time there.
"I'm going where I'm needed right now at this particular time," Watson said. "I enjoy rushing the passer, so we'll see how it goes as the years go on."
The Bucs like having Watson in the rotation at end for the defensive equivalent of a change-of-pace running back. He's 20 pounds lighter than the team's smallest traditional end. And aside from starter Adrian Clayborn's three sacks, the team's other five ends have totaled two in 10 games.
Watson played a season-high 25 snaps on defense Sunday after totaling just 20 in the previous four weeks.
"Dekoda's very explosive and very fast," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "Our other ends have good speed as well. It gives you a different kind of guy you have to handle. If an offensive tackle knows he's playing against one or two guys the whole game, he can study film on those guys, know what their strengths and weaknesses are. (Watson) just poses another kind of a guy their tackles are going to have to deal with."
The Bucs often line up in a nickel package with just two linebackers. Coach Greg Schiano said the shift to Jonathan Casillas at strongside and the promotion of rookie Ka'lial Glaud gave his team the depth to move Watson to defensive end.
"We're just trying to get the best 11, to be able to rest guys and do everything," Schiano said. "Just tinkering to get the best combination, and sure enough, he gets a key element in that defensive touchdown."
Watson, 25, had been used occasionally at end in obvious passing situations. But part of his challenge now is handling himself on first and second downs, when he must defend against the run and the physicality of offensive linemen.
"It's guys that weigh way more than me. But my speed just keeps me alive, and the strength I do have, it helps," Watson said. "I'm studying film, working on my hands with (defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Clayborn) and all them boys. They're taking me under their wing right now."
Watson, a 2010 seventh-round draft pick from Florida State, has made his biggest impact on special teams. He was NFC special teams player of the month in November 2012, and he blocked a punt Sunday.
The fourth-year pro can be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and versatility remains one of his strengths — even if it has left him currently without a clearly defined position.
"Heck, I don't get to stretch with the linebackers nor the D-ends," Watson said, joking. "I'm in my own stretch line.
"Being able to play different positions, different roles … shoot, I'm trying to knock on the door at tight end. But we're going to take it one step at a time. Whatever I can contribute, I'm more than willing to."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.