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Antoine Winfield Jr. Talks Position Switch | Brianna's Blitz 

During Day Four of Organized Team Activities, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. discussed his new role for the upcoming 2023 season

OTAs Winfield Position Switch

Buccaneers' stout defender Antoine Winfield Jr. had a full plate last season, handling a variety of duties in the secondary. The do-it-all playmaker proved to be rangy/athletic enough to man the free safety position and physical enough to play the slot corner role. Winfield lined up at centerfield to clean things up in the back of the team's base 3-4 and emerged as the slot-option in nickel packages. He totaled 445 snaps in the slot last season and 236 at free safety. This, of course, was a byproduct of the Bucs spending more time in nickel defense. During the first two years of his career, Winfield primarily lined up at free safety and in 2023, he will revert back to that responsibility. 

"His tackling is outstanding, his intensity is outstanding, what he does for the team is outstanding," Todd Bowles described at the 2023 Scouting Combine. "I think he's one of our top three defensive players. He can only get better with experience, you know?... I don't want to move him around as much this coming season than I have this year – I'll try to leave him at one spot as best as I can," said Bowles. "I think he'll master that spot and get even better for us."

As a rookie, Winfield became a starter at free safety on Tampa Bay's Super Bowl-winning squad. He thrived in the middle position, posting 94 tackles (64 solo), three sacks, an interception, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He started all 16 regular season games and had a stellar postseason run, accumulating an interception, two passes defensed and a critical forced fumble.

In 2021, Winfield continued his streak of dominance. He upped his interception total to two and forced three fumbles, while notching two sacks, four tackles for loss and six more passes defensed. Over two playoff games, he posted a sack and a forced fumble. 

Last season, in a jack-of-all-trades role, Winfield Jr. graded out as the fourth-best defensive back (corners and safeties both included) in run defense among all defensive backs with at least 278 run defense snaps (110 qualifying players). His 3.3% stop rate was in the top-25 and his missed tackle rate of 5.3% ranked 14th out of the aforementioned 110 players.

His new role, although clearly defined, will require various tasks based on the coverage and whether a run or pass-play ensues. Winfield will be the last line of defense. His job will be to line up deep, survey and attack where needed as the play unfolds. On passing plays, Winfield will serve as over-the-top support coverage. Depending on the assignment and the call, Winfield will scan the field and any receiver who gets behind a cornerback then becomes his responsibility to pick up. He will be responsible for preventing throws down the seam and filling alleys against the run. 

"I will probably be in the middle of the field more," Winfield assessed. "I like having that freedom to roam around and be in the middle of the field, have that presence…I'm able to play around and cover different things than being in the slot." 

With the evolution of offensive attacks, the challenge becomes how the free safety can play deep enough to mitigate the vertical passing threat, but also offer viable run support. Winfield will have to maintain good positioning and awareness on the back end, choosing carefully what to take away, especially in an RPO-centric, play-action era. During the 2023 offseason, the Bucs' staff has placed an emphasis on turnovers. With Winfield's natural ball skills, Todd Bowles' crew are hopeful that his insertion at free safety will cultivate a spike in takeaways. Winfield plays with a sense of urgency and will vie to once again solidify his status as one of the best safeties in the game.

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