Bucs-Ravens: Can Carl Nassib run down Lamar Jackson?

The Bucs claimed defensive end Carl Nassib off waivers from Cleveland the week of their opener, and he has produced a career-high 6.5 sacks.
Defensive end Carl Nassib (94) has been a find this season for the Bucs after being released by Cleveland in the preseason.  [Times files (2018)]
Defensive end Carl Nassib (94) has been a find this season for the Bucs after being released by Cleveland in the preseason. [Times files (2018)]
Published December 14 2018

TAMPA — One play should have won the game for the Bucs Sunday: The bull rush by defensive end Carl Nassib that drove Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk into Drew Brees' lap.

At 6 feet 7, 275 pounds, Nassib used his long arms to rake the football away Brees. Jason Pierre-Paul recovered the fumble to start the third quarter with the Bucs leading 14-3.

The play gave Nassib a career-high 6.5 sacks on the season, not bad for a guy plucked off the waiver wire from Cleveland Browns less than a week before the season.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, Cairo Santos missed a 40-yard field goal wide right, and Tampa Bay lost momentum and then the game, 28-14.

Nassib had some primal, profane screams heading off the field and toward the locker room at Raymond James Stadium.

"I don't really care about my own personal success,'' said Nassib, who had 5.5 sacks combined in two seasons in Cleveland. " … I just want to be someone that my coaches and teammates can count on me to do my job.''

Count Nassib among the Bucs' best discoveries in years. General manager Jason Licht said the Bucs liked him coming out of Penn State, but obviously not enough to take him ahead of the Browns in the third round, 65th overall.

What he has done for the Bucs is given them another bookend pass rusher opposite of Pierre-Paul, who leads the team with 11.5 sacks.

"I've always seen Carl as a high-energy guy,'' defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I know he just needed a shot."

The Bucs invested heavily in their defensive line in the offseason. In addition to obtaining Pierre-Paul from the Giants, they signed Eagles free agent defensive end Vinny Curry to a three-year, $23-million contract.

William Gholston is in the second season of a five-year, $27.5-million contract. Noah Spence was a second-round pick in 2016.

With 24 tackles and two forced fumbles, Nassib has outplayed everyone but Pierre-Paul.

"Carl's length and his motor make him tough just when we have to go against him in practice," coach Dirk Koetter said. " Just those two things alone — length and motor —make him difficult to handle. The fact that he's usually where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there, that's where the consistency part comes in."

Nassib, 25, has always been overlooked. A college walk-on, he wasn't always considered the best player in his family. His brother, Ryan, was a star quarterback at Syracuse and selected in the fourth round by the Giants in 2013.

His younger brother John was a defensive end who played at Delaware like his father. Gil Nassib won a Division II national title as a tight end for the Blue Hens in 1979.

Carl Nassib was a late bloomer. He didn't play his first two years at Penn State and had only one sack in each of his next two seasons. But as a fifth-year senior he exploded with a school-record 15.5 sacks while forcing six fumbles.

The Bucs were last in the NFL with 22 sacks last season. Nassib and Pierre-Paul have been the ingredients that ignited a pass rush which has totaled 34 sacks with three games remaining.

Said Nassib: "I came here late and we've had some more additions so it's been really great that we've shown when we play together and we play as a unit, we can do some special things.''

It's rare to have a talent like Nassib become available. But the Browns overhauled their front office, with John Dorsey taking over as general manager. Clearly, the Browns made a mistake and paid for it Oct. 21 in Tampa.

Nassib did not have a sack in his first five games but erupted for two against his former team in a 26-23 win over the Browns.

On Sunday, Nassib's biggest responsibility may be stopping Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson from beating the Bucs with his legs. Jackson has averaged 83 rushing yards and gone 3-1 as the starter.

"They have a really good downhill running game that hits you quick and then they play-action and bootleg off of it,'' Koetter said. "Even when you think you've got it contained, when you look at the tape, he just outruns containment sometimes.''

Nassib has the kind of relentless pursuit — the motor, if you will — that the Bucs may need to chase Jackson down all day.

"I guess that's what you can say about me … my motor,'' Nassib said. "I'd like one person to say about me I look athletic out there. … No one says it."

But you have to be athletic to have a high motor as an NFL defensive end, right?

"No, it's different,'' Nassib said.  "I don't know what it is, either.''

Nassib still may be best been known for dispensing financial advice to Browns teammates on the latest season of HBO's Hard Knocks. Now he stands to make a windfall when he becomes a free agent following the 2019 season.

"Did I envision he'd be as productive as this? I'm not sure," defensive coordinator Mark Duffner said. " I don't know about that. I know we wanted him because of what we saw in terms of his energy, effort and how hard he played. And you know, congrats to him on what he's doing so far.''

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud