Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft preview: Linebackers

RECOMMENDED READING


The situation

The Bucs gambled by going with rookie Mason Foster in the middle last season, particularly on the heels of the lockout and no offseason. Foster struggled with play-calling and coverage, sprained both ankles early in the season, and his legs went dead during the final month.

The day Bill Sheridan became defensive coordinator, he suggested Foster might play on the outside. Quincy Black returns on the strongside and called plays during last week's first minicamp. Dekoda Watson could become a starter but is best suited as an edge pass rusher.

Tampa Bay was 32nd against the run last season, and it could be argued linebacker is its second-biggest need behind cornerback. The Bucs have not addressed the position in free agency, perhaps a clue they will do so in the draft.

What they're looking for

The Bucs have flexibility. Foster is prepared to remain in the middle, so they can find an outside linebacker in the later rounds. Ideally, the Bucs' middle linebacker would be a three-down player who is as comfortable in coverage as against the run. More important, they need some attitude on defense and more instinctive players.

Fitting the bill

Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly makes a lot of sense for the Bucs if Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne are gone. Kuechly is projected by some to be a top-10 pick, so it wouldn't be much of a reach. He's a no-nonsense player known for his preparation and work ethic who fits perfectly what coach Greg Schiano is trying to build on defense.

The top 10

1. Luke Kuechly, ILB, 6-3, 242, Boston CollegeKuechly made 14 tackles per game, an NCAA record. He is the only player to lead the ACC in tackles three consecutive seasons. Would allow Mason Foster to move to the weakside.
2. Melvin Ingram, OLB, 6-1, 264, South CarolinaMany project Ingram as an end in a 4-3 scheme and an outside linebacker in a 3-4 because of his ability to rush the quarterback. Would not be a great fit for the Bucs because he is not strong in coverage.
3. Shea McClellin, OLB, 6-3, 260, Boise StateMcClellin had 161/2 sacks in two seasons in Division I-A, and many see him as a pass-rushing end. That's likely what he would be in the Bucs' scheme. But he was used primarily as a strongside linebacker during Senior Bowl practices.
4. Lavonte David, OLB, 6-1, 233, NebraskaDavid recorded 152 tackles and six sacks last season. A little undersized for some schemes but the prototypical Tampa Bay weakside linebacker. Some teams project him as a strong safety.
5. Dont'a Hightower, MLB, 6-2, 265, AlabamaCaptain of the BCS national champions has great speed and power. Might be a better 3-4 linebacker because he could struggle in coverage.
6. Mychal Kendricks, ILB, 5-11, 239, CaliforniaPac-12 defensive player of the year has exceptional speed (4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and instincts. But he might struggle getting off blocks in the NFL.
7. Ronnell Lewis, OLB, 6-1, 253, OklahomaThe ultimate tweener who might struggle to find a position in the NFL. Nicknamed "The Hammer" for the way he hits, Lewis played nearly every front seven position for the Sooners.
8. Zach Brown, OLB, 6-1, 244, North CarolinaRecruited by Butch Davis, now the Bucs' special assistant to the head coach. Has a lot of measurables, but you have to wonder if he lacks instincts and would struggle like Quincy Black.
9. Demario Davis, ILB, 6-2, 235, Arkansas StateIncredible physical specimen who can provide big hits, particularly in the running game. He is a raw talent in many other areas who needs time to develop.
10. Bobby Wagner, OLB, 6-0, 235, Utah StateFour-year starter can play strong and weakside linebacker. A little on the small side, but quickness is there. Coverage responsibilities will be an adjustment.

Best guess

If Richardson and Claiborne are gone and the Bucs pass on Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Kuechly would be a solid pick at No. 5 and improve the defense.

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer

Comments
Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

Bucs players, coaches say they cherish getting game balls for special feats

TAMPA — In the jubilant moments after a Bucs win, Dirk Koetter will sometimes ask for a game-used ball from his equipment staff, hold it high in the locker room and present it to the player who was most crucial to the victory.NFL players can ask for ...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Koetter says Bucs not distracted by Jameis Winston’s off-field issue

The Bucs are 1-0 since news broke last Friday of Jameis Winston being accused by an Uber driver of groping her during a ride in March of 2016.That's really all the evidence coach Dirk Koetter needs to say the issue has not been a distraction to the t...
Published: 11/22/17
Updated: 11/23/17
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Published: 11/22/17
Updated: 11/23/17
Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

TAMPA — The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said it’s too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner."We haven’t turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, preparing for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. "It’s ...
Published: 11/22/17
McCoy is only Bucs player in Pro Bowl voting top 10s

McCoy is only Bucs player in Pro Bowl voting top 10s

The Bucs aren't faring well in early Pro Bowl fan voting, with DT Gerald McCoy as the only Tampa Bay player ranking in the top 10 at his position.McCoy, seeking his sixth straight Pro Bowl selection, ranks seventh among NFL defensive tackles, one wee...
Published: 11/22/17
NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

Happy Thanksgiving! It's already week 12 of the NFL season, and the football feast is set to begin. It all starts at at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, when the Lions try to win their fifth straight Thanksgiving Day game against a Minnesota team out to bec...
Published: 11/22/17
Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman takes a closer look at the three former Bucs who are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.He also looks at the constant churn on the Bucs’ practice squad and why Julio Jones’ stats have dropped off this season,...
Published: 11/22/17
Bucs’ Barber, Lynch, Rice among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Bucs’ Barber, Lynch, Rice among Hall of Fame semifinalists

Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Simeon Rice — teammates on the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl championship team — are among the 27 semifinalists to be considered for this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class.Lynch is a semifinalist for the sixth st...
Published: 11/22/17
Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

Rick and Tom podcast: USF vs UCF is the biggest game in Florida this weekend

It’s a Thanksgiving Football Wednesday as Rick Stroud and Tom Jones preview the Bucs-Falcons game, USF-UCF, Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan and more.The guys agree on the Bucs game outcome with Rick saying they can’t win. They also agree that Tha...
Published: 11/22/17
Bucs-Falcons: It’s time to start believing Miko Grimes

Bucs-Falcons: It’s time to start believing Miko Grimes

TAMPA — The most valuable player for the Bucs is Brent Grimes.It felt odd typing that, but it’s time to say it.In Grimes’ two seasons in Tampa Bay, the Bucs haven’t won a game without him. This season they are 4-3 when he plays, 0-3 when he doesn’t.H...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17