Optimism season is in full swing for all 32 NFL teams during Organized Team Activities (OTAs). The foundation for the Buccaneers' 2023 campaign is being formed as classroom meetings, on-field instruction and installs are being implemented on the grass. The Buccaneers last line of defense will be modified this upcoming season, as Mike Edwards, Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan departed in free agency. Edwards, Neal and Ryan combined to make 28 starts for Tampa Bay last season at safety and vacancies will have to be filled.
In April, the Bucs signed Ryan Neal to a one-year contract, joining Antoine Winfield Jr. and Nolan Turner in the secondary. The depleted unit with little in the way of depth got a much-needed boost. Neal started the 2022 season for Seattle in a reserve role but after Jamal Adams suffered an injury, Neal took over. He posted 45 solo tackles, eight passes defensed, four tackles for loss and an interception. Neal received 14 Associated Press All-Pro votes in 2022, second-most among NFC safeties. Neal became PFF's highest-graded safety (91.1) between Week 7 and 15. Now, he has the opportunity to secure the starting role opposite Winfield Jr. at strong safety. Neal became the Seahawks' most-consistent defender during the second half of the season. In coverage, Neal only allowed a 50% completion rate and a 63.9 passer rating. With his physicality at the line of scrimmage, Neal will bolster the Bucs' defense. Despite the tumultuous path Neal has taken in the NFL, he put the NFL on notice in 2022. He is no longer the underdog but a prime 'breakout' candidate for the Bucs in 2023.
In 2022, Winfield made his mark as a do-it-all weapon in the secondary for Tampa Bay. He possesses the awareness to line up over the top in post and the tackling/coverage prowess to play in the slot. He filled a variety of roles for the Bucs last season, lining up at centerfield to clean things up in the back of the team's base 3-4 and served as Tampa Bay's slot-playmaker in nickel packages. Free safety had been Winfield's primary position during his first two seasons in the NFL, but due to his ability to blitz and to set the edge against the run, the staff used him interchangeably. He concluded the 2022 season with 80 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, one interception, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. Following the end of the Bucs' 2022 slate, Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed that Winfield will move back to a full-time role at free safety, to maximize his ball skills. The goal is to feature his range, athleticism and awareness at free safety to generate more turnovers in 2023.
Following the 2022 season, the Bucs immediately switched gears to adding depth, signing 13 players from their practice squad to reserve/future contracts. That group included Nolan Turner, an undrafted rookie from Clemson who signed with the Bucs in 2022. He started the season on the practice squad, joined the active roster on Oct. 27, was waived on Dec. 5 and was re-signed to the practice squad on Dec. 7. Turner played in five games for the Buccaneers last year, primarily contributing on special teams. He will vie for a backup role, along with undrafted free agent pickups Christian Izien and Kaevon Merriweather. Dee Delaney and rookie Josh Hayes will likely receive reps at nickel corner but, have the versatility to cross-train at safety.
Position Group: Safety
- Christian Izien (UDFA)
- Kaevon Merriweather (UDFA)
- Ryan Neal
- Nolan Turner
- Antoine Winfield Jr.