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Why Bucs may replace linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka with YaYa Diaby

Tryon-Shoyinka failed to record a single defensive statistic in last week’s loss to the 49ers. Meanwhile, Diaby is tied for second on the team in sacks.
 
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs against Bucs linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (9) during Sunday's game in Santa Clara, California.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs against Bucs linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (9) during Sunday's game in Santa Clara, California. [ GODOFREDO A. VÁSQUEZ | AP ]
Published Nov. 24, 2023|Updated Nov. 24, 2023

TAMPA ― Outside linebacker YaYa Diaby wears No. 0 with the Bucs. “Every time I put it on,” the rookie from Louisville says, “it’s like a blessing because I’m the first (on the team) to wear it.”

But the player Diaby backs up, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, was not bemused by all the zeroes in his stat column following the Bucs’ 27-14 loss to the 49ers last Sunday in Santa Clara, California.

Tryon-Shoyinka didn’t record a tackle, sack, pass defensed, quarterback hit or any other statistic despite playing 34 (57%) of the defensive snaps.

Meanwhile, Diaby had two sacks of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, giving him four for the year. He has produced one more than Tryon-Shoyinka this season, despite playing only 35% of the defensive snaps (compared to 61% for Tryon-Shoyinka).

Tryon-Shoyinka, 24, is in his third season since being selected with the final pick of the first round out of the 2021 draft, a few months after the Bucs won Super Bowl 55.

Prior to training camp, both Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Todd Bowles put Tryon-Shoyinka on notice, saying he needed to “take a step up” this season after recording four sacks in each of his first two years as a starter.

Tryon-Shoyinka is aware he needs to produce better sack numbers. But he knows he also must stick to his assignment in the defense.

“You don’t want to just be out there not getting sacks, because those are the plays that impact the game,” he said. “Those are the ones that close a play and can close a drive. You can get a strip, you can get a fumble. They’re game-changing. It changes momentum and all of that. It puts (the opponent) behind the sticks.

“If you don’t get those types of plays, you might get a little frustrated. Our room, we’re productive. But we’re also not selfish. We understand we’ve got to do a lot of different things. Rush. Cover. You’ve got to play the defense and play your assignment well, because a little lapse in the defense that we run (and) they’re just going to be running wide open.”

Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson (23) is floored on a hit by Bucs linebacker Yaya Diaby (0) during ta game in September in Tampa.
Chicago Bears running back Roschon Johnson (23) is floored on a hit by Bucs linebacker Yaya Diaby (0) during ta game in September in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Of course, Tryon-Shoyinka isn’t the only edge rusher not meeting expectations this season. After 10 games, Shaquil Barrett has four sacks and is on pace for fewer than seven.

Barrett signed a four-year, $72 million contract in March 2021. Since posting a league-best 19½ sacks in 2019, he’s had 25 over the next four seasons combined, reaching double digits only one more time, when he had 10 in 2021.

Of course, Barrett’s decline in production this year could be the result of his recovery from a torn Achilles suffered at the midway point of last season.

As a team, the Bucs entered Friday tied for 14th in the NFL in sacks with 29. But to say they need and expect more from Tryon-Shoyinka and Barrett is an understatement.

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“The mental makeup we have is very good,” Bowles said. “They get after the quarterback. Sometimes they win, and the ball is gone. Sometimes they don’t get off of blocks, and we have to get off of blocks better. Just because you win doesn’t mean you’re getting a sack.”

In general, Bowles said the coaching staff is more concerned with pressures affecting the quarterback than sack totals.

“Obviously, the sacks are great,” Bowles said. “But if you can get incompletions and cause turnovers, that’s great. The guys that get sacks — as you look at it over time — they get to play more and produce more.

“Everybody understands we’ve got to get to the quarterback when it’s time to get to the quarterback. Again, there’s a lot of factors involved in that. DBs have got to cover longer, we’ve got to beat blocks, some of them get double-teamed. Other times, we’ve got to get there.”

Last Sunday, Tryon-Shoyinka’s job was to set the edge and make sure neither running back Christian McCaffrey nor receiver Deebo Samuel were able to turn the corner.

“Your first assignment that game may be to set the edge and funnel everything inside, and you have to look at it as I’m doing my job right,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “You feel better about doing your job than chasing the sacks and giving up a big run. Those are the plays on film that they ask, ‘What ... are you doing right here?”

Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett (7) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis (8) during a game earlier this month in Tampa.
Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett (7) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis (8) during a game earlier this month in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Are sacks overrated?

“You never say a sack is overrated, because it’s always a TFL (tackle for loss),” Bowles said. “I wouldn’t say that, no.”

At 6-feet-3 and a pretty rocked-up 276 pounds, Diaby is a weight room junkie who Bowles jokes looks like Optimus Prime of the Transformers.

Bucs assistant defensive coordinator Larry Foote said Diaby, a third-round pick in 2023, can expect more playing time based on his production, especially being utilized more as a pass rusher.

“Absolutely,” Foote said. “That’s a position that rotates in the league. Those guys rotate, everybody gets a shot in there to play. You (have) to keep these guys fresh, those are pass rushers, and he is looking like the reason why we drafted him. In that position, if you’re more productive, (then) more snaps. Everybody knows that.”

Of course, things change fast in the NFL. Before the game against the Bucs, 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa had only 4½ sacks, ½ more than Barrett. Four days and two games later, he had eight.

In Tryon-Shoyinka’s case, it’s possible he was overdrafted. In 25 games at Washington, he started only 14, recording 61 tackles (14½ for loss), nine sacks and two passes defensed.

Maybe Barrett, at 31 and with his injury, is on the downside of his career. But Foote says the full story hasn’t been written. What advice would he give Barrett and Tryon-Shoyinka?

“Keep pushing,” Foote said. “(In those) positions, you have to look at your win rate. You can beat the guy clean, but the quarterback threw the ball quick. You (have) to look at those things, but in general in this league you have to stay humble and you have to keep your confidence.

“Not even just the outside world, (but) you can beat yourself down. You have to stay confident. I know firsthand this league will challenge your confidence, and you have to stay positive, keep fighting, and it will turn for you.”

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