A year ago, the meteoric training camp rise of rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. kept the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense from fielding an opening-day lineup made up solely of returning players from the 2019 team. This year, it looks like the Bucs will go 11-for-11.
Still a month away from playing the regular-season opener, the Buccaneers are now operating with an "official" depth chart, as they were required to put one together for the first preseason game. Tampa Bay opens its 2021 preseason on Saturday with a visit from the Cincinnati Bengals. For now, though, the starting 11 on defense are the same players who were listed in those spots on the first depth chart of 2020.
Since the Buccaneers' offense is also returning all 11 starters from last year, there are no rookies who have cracked the starting lineup yet. However, both first-round outside linebacker Joe Tryon and fifth-round inside linebacker K.J. Britt already possess key reserve spots on the depth chart. A third 2021 draft pick, fourth-round wideout Jaelon Darden, is also listed second at both return jobs on the special teams portion of the chart.
Click here to review the Bucs' first depth chart of 2020. Below are the listed defensive starters:
DL: Ndamukong Suh
NT: Vita Vea
DL: William Gholston
OLB: Jason Pierre-Paul
ILB: Devin White
ILB: Lavonte David
OLB: Shaquil Barrett
CB: Carlton Davis
CB: Sean Murphy-Bunting
S: Antoine Winfield, Jr.
S: Jordan Whitehead
And here's a breakdown by position:
Defensive Line – The Bucs have a lot of depth at this spot, with 11 players filling out three interior-line positions. And eight of those 11 have previously seen regular-season action for Tampa Bay, meaning the team already has a degree of comfort with a large group of their defensive linemen. The starting trio in the base defense is the same as it has been for the last two years, two seasons in which the Bucs led the NFL in rushing defense both times: Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and Will Gholston. Vea plays the nose tackle position and is backed up by Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who returns after doing a superb job filling in as the starter for most of 2020 after Vea suffered an ankle injury. Patrick O'Connor has mostly been a (very good) special teams player but he has a premium spot on the depth chart, right behind Suh. Khalil Davis, a sixth-round pick in 2020 who is seen as a good pass-rusher in the middle, is behind O'Connor. Veteran Steve McLendon a midseason trade acquisition last year, rounds out the second-team line.
Outside Linebacker – Once again, the starting duo is Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, a duo that has racked up a combined 51.5 sacks over their two years together in the starting lineup, postseason included. However, the Buccaneers used their first round pick on outside linebacker Joe Tryon in April and, given Tryon's impressive rookie training camp, are likely to feature him prominently in the rotation, as well. Tryon is listed behind Barrett while third-year man Anthony Nelson rounds out the top four, listed behind Pierre-Paul. There is the potential for even more depth at the stop if Cam Gill and or Quinton Bell continue to develop after showing some promise last year.
Inside Linebacker – This is also Year Three for the ILB duo of Lavonte David and Devin White, and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. However, the Buccaneers may find a way to develop more depth behind those two if one or two of their 2021 draft picks pan out. Fifth-round selection K.J. Britt has joined stalwart veteran Kevin Minter as the second-line pair of inside linebackers on the first depth chart. Seventh-rounder Grant Stuard is in the third group alongside veteran acquisition Joe Jones.
Cornerback – There are two listings of note in this group. The first is that Sean Murphy-Bunting will apparently once again open as the bookend to Carlton Davis in the base package. Last year, Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean passed that role back and forth a little bit, with Murphy-Bunting usually playing in the slot in sub packages. The second is the choice of Ross Cockrell as the fourth linebacker, listed second on the chart behind Davis. That matches up with what happened in 2020, as Cockrell was indeed the next man in when any of the first three were unavailable. However, in this year's camp Cockrell has been learning the safety position and has drawn high praise for his work. It remains to see if he will continue to be listed among the corners or be moved to the safety lines when the regular season arrives. Herb Miller, a young player who showed promise last year, is in the third group along with veteran Antonio Hamilton. Hamilton is notably listed before fellow veteran Nate Brooks and seventh-round draft pick Chris Wilcox on the depth chart.
Safety – Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Jordan Whitehead, the incumbent starters at the two safety spots, remain in those positions and indeed have taken most of the first-team snaps since Whitehead returned from the COVID list. However, the team obviously has a lot of trust in Mike Edwards, who has proven to be a ball hawk in his somewhat limited opportunities. Rounding out the top four are Javon Hagan, an undrafted rookie who showed promise last year.
Specialists – Punter Bradley Pinion and long-snapper Zach Triner have no competition at their positions in this year's camp. Veteran kicker Ryan Succop, who stabilized a shaky position for the Buccaneers last year, maintains the top spot at his position over undrafted rookie Jose Borregales. The most interesting lines on this part of the depth chart are for the two return jobs. Jaydon Mickens is the incumbent and is listed first at both spots but rookie Jaelon Darden is right behind him on both lines. The third punt returner listed is third-year wideout Scotty Miller, while second-year receiver Tyler Johnson gets included in the group at kickoff return.