TAMPA — It took an injury to force Joe Tryon-Shoyinka onto the field. Only pure stubbornness by the Bucs’ coaching staff can take him off it.
The Bucs rookie outside linebacker played what head coach Bruce Arians called “one of his best ballgames” in Monday night’s win over the New York Giants.
The biggest difference?
Since becoming the Bucs’ first-round pick out of Washington, Tryon-Shoyinka burst onto the scene in Week 4 at New England, starting in place of injured Jason Pierre-Paul.
Tryon-Shoyinka had two sacks in that game, a hard-fought 19-17 win that came down to the final drive.
But he returned to the bench the next week, only occasionally spelling Pierre-Paul or being utilized in a pass-rush package that also included Shaquil Barrett.
In fact, Tryon-Shoyinka participated in more than 19 snaps only once since that New England game until Monday night.
“Obviously you want to play, but you know you’ve got to wait your turn, play the role and help the defense when they call my name,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “I’m here. I love playing this game, and I love being in Tampa. It is what it is.
“You earn their trust. Being able to handle that, you show it’s not too big for me.”
Instead, it may have been too big for the coaches to admit that they’ve been relying too much on noble, but injured Pierre-Paul, who has grown increasingly ineffective playing with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder.
Nobody is playing in more pain than Pierre-Paul, but the film doesn’t lie. He is easily blocked by one player in the run game, and it’s clear his power and effectiveness has been minimized.
It took a knee injury to nose tackle Vita Vea in the Bucs’ loss to Washington to create an opening for Tryon-Shoyinka.
With Vea out, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles designed some packages with Tryon-Shoyinka as a hand-on-the-ground interior defensive lineman. He also stood up and played an off-ball linebacker position. But most of his snaps came as an edge rusher.
“He handled it extremely well,” Arians said.
From the beginning of Monday’s game, Tryon-Shoyinka was in the face of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
“I feel like I was pretty active, you know, trying my best to be disruptive,” he said. “I didn’t make any mistakes, so I feel like that’s a trend upwards.”
While it’s true that Tryon-Shoyinka opted out of his final year at Washington due to COVID-19, conditioning is no longer a problem and he’s playing great football.
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Whatever the reason, Bowles has been slow to use the 32nd pick in the draft.
Because of his athleticism, Bowles has used Tryon-Shoyinka in pass coverage. He’s an excellent athlete who can keep pace with running backs and tight ends.
But it’s also been a waste, since what he does best is pressure the quarterback the way he did Monday. Tryon-Shoyinka played 29 snaps and was used primarily to attack the quarterback.
He made his presence felt early in the game lining up inside as a defensive tackle. Jones rolled right, and Tryon-Shoyinka used his speed to close on him. He forced Jones to throw the football away and forced a field goal to snuff out the first drive of the game.
Even with his limited snaps, Tryon-Shoyinka is outplaying a very injured JPP, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tryon-Shoyinka has 21 quarterback pressures in 159 pass-rush snaps, while Pierre-Paul has 17 pressures in 282 reps.
Tryon-Shoyinka said he considers Pierre-Paul and Barrett mentors.
“Just pretty much everyone on the team,” he said. “They’re all in my ear if I need help or trying to make sure I know what I’m doing. So it’s been a great effort from everyone on the team.
“We have a lot of calls in this defense. Just being able to know the whole defense. I went from just knowing what I’m doing to expanding my knowledge of every position on defense to see where I can be to help this defense.”
The only question is whether the Bucs’ coaching staff will allow him to do more.
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