TAMPA — No one could wait to see when and where rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka would enter the game for the Bucs against the Dallas Cowboys.
You knew Tampa Bay’s first-round pick (32nd overall) in the 2021 draft would play special teams, and he was involved in 21 snaps there in the Sept. 9 opener.
But the big question was which starting outside linebacker Tryon-Shoyinka would spell first: Jason Pierre-Paul or Shaquil Barrett?
The answer was neither. Even more surprisingly, Tryon-Shoyinka started the game — but not at outside linebacker.
The Cowboys began their first possession at their own 2-yard line after a 65-yard punt out of bounds by Bradley Pinion. On the first play, Tryon-Shoyinka lined up in the slot as the Bucs’ nickel cornerback opposite Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper.
Credit the Cowboys for correctly recognizing the mismatch and likely anticipating that Tryon-Shoyinka was coming on a blitz.
Quarterback Dak Prescott audibled at the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Lavonte David was late getting over to cover Cooper, who hauled in a 28-yard pass.
From then on, Tryon-Shoyinka was the wild card that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could play at any position.
“I was just playing football at that point,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “Growing up, I’ve never had just one designated position. I’ve just always been here and there, so I’ve just been able to translate that to the NFL and do what the coaches want me to do. Versatility is really important in my game, and I take pride in that.”
Later on the opening drive, with the Cowboys facing third and 10, Bowles dialed up another exotic blitz look. He moved defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea outside on opposite ends of the line and had Tryon-Shoyinka and Barrett inside of them. Pressing the A gaps where Suh and Vea would normally be were David and Devin White.
After a false start penalty on the Cowboys, Tryon-Shoyinka and Barrett dropped into coverage and Prescott fired incomplete.
Tryon-Shoyinka played 21 snaps on defense and recorded two total tackles. His third-quarter hit on Prescott also helped result in an interception by Carlton Davis. That play set up Tom Brady’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.
“Yeah, I was very, very pleased with his first outing going against a really good bunch of tackles,” coach Bruce Arians said of Tryon-Shoyinka. “He performed really well. Out in space he did well, rushing the passer. He stayed in his gap in the running game, which has been a problem because he likes to go make the play all the time. Yeah, I was very pleased with his progress.”
Pierre-Paul enters Sunday’s game against the Falcons as questionable, nursing a right hand injury — the one where he lost fingers during a fireworks accident on July 4, 2015 — so there is a chance Tryon-Shoyinka’s workload could increase.
“It was awesome,” he said of his first NFL regular-season game. “You know, the first play of the game and I’m out there. It means a lot. The coaches trust me, and I trust they’re going to put me in a position to make plays. It’s a lot of fun.”
Inside information for Falcons’ defensive coordinator?
When Arians faces a quarterback he has coached and is familiar with, he always believes it gives him an edge.
That must be the way new Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees feels about Tom Brady.
Pees followed Falcons head coach Arthur Smith from Tennessee, but he also spent six seasons with the Patriots, the last four as defensive coordinator.
“I think it definitely helps,” Arians said of Pees’ familiarity with Brady. “It’s no disadvantage, that’s for sure, to know what he likes having seen all those game plans of what they like doing. I think for us, it’s a little bit different in that we do different things with him than he has done in maybe the last four or five years. But it’s definitely an advantage.’’
Brady said he believes Pees and the Falcons’ 3-4 scheme will be tough to handle.
“He’s a really talented coach,” Brady said. “I’ve known Dean a long time. Really challenges the quarterback. He’s very sound defensively. I don’t think there’s a lot of easy plays out there. He makes you earn everything.”
The full Monte
There hasn’t been a bigger character or better coach to work for the Bucs than Monte Kiffin.
The legendary defensive coordinator ranks as the longest-tenured coach in franchise history, having spent 13 seasons with the organization under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden.
On Sunday, Kiffin will become the 14th inductee into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor and the only assistant coach to have that distinction.
From 1996-2008, the Bucs allowed 17.4 points per game, fewest in the league during that period. Their 293 takeaways were second only to the Ravens (306).
The Bucs surprised Kiffin on his 80th birthday last year with news that he had been selected for the team’s Ring of Honor. But due to COVID-19, Kiffin’s induction was delayed a year.
“A lot of legends from our Tampa 2 defense are up there (in the Ring of Honor),” former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. “It goes without saying that the architect of that or at least the guy who was calling the plays every single Sunday deserves to be up there, and you can’t talk about our defense without talking about Monte Kiffin.”
Date set for Lynch HOF ring ceremony
Circle the date. John Lynch, the Bucs and Broncos safety and current general manager of the 49ers, will receive his ring for the Pro Football Hall of Fame at a ceremony at halftime of the Bucs’ Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants on Nov. 22.
The 49ers play at Jacksonville one day earlier, so the schedule couldn’t have worked out better.