A new league year begins, ushering in change. From free agency departures to re-signings to draft selections, the roster evolves. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win-now approach as Tom Brady returns for his 23rd season in the NFL, the organization is striving to remain atop the NFC hierarchy in 2022. Each position group will be evaluated during the offseason workout program as turnover shifts the depth chart.
The Bucs' defensive line is a mainstay and one of the most formidable units in football, a reputation that does not come easily. In the Todd Bowles regime, the blitz-centric D-Line attacks with consistent penetration. The greatest testament to the success of the men in the trenches? Opponents have stopped trying to run the football against the Bucs, focusing on a pass-heavy and perimeter-based assault. In 2022, let's take a look at the menacing crew with new acquisitions.
Vita Vea is the anchor in the interior with relentless effort. He effortlessly fights through double teams in pursuit of the ball. Vea covers both gaps inside and possesses a lethal bull rush to get straight to the quarterback and collapse the pocket. Vea's burst out of his stance and leverage overwhelms centers and guards. He dominates at the point of attack and will have an increased leadership role in 2022. Ndamukong Suh has yet to be re-signed and the Bucs' run game coordinator and defensive line coach, Kacy Rodgers, recently spoke on Vea's ceiling.
"I give him a hard time because I'm going into my 20th season coaching in this league – a lot of them spent up front – and he's probably the biggest guy that plays third down in the history of the NFL," said Rodgers. "He comes to work every day, he's here, he knows what we have to do and what we have to get done. Through attrition, Vita should step into that role up front."
Veteran Will Gholston will presumably start on one side with rookie Logan Hall on the other side as the three-technique, particularly if Suh does not re-sign with the Bucs. Rakeem Nunez-Roches will primarily serve as the backup nose tackle and get plenty of snaps. Pat O'Connor adds rotational depth (playing mostly special team snaps last year), along with several players on last year's practice squad that will strive to make the final 53-man roster: Will Previlon, Kobe Smith, and Benning Potoa'e. In addition, the Bucs added former Falcons defensive lineman, Deadrin Senat, who played in a limited role for Atlanta the previous three seasons.
As a stout strongside run defender, Gholston often comes off the field in sub, nickel packages. Last year, Gholston played 43% of defensive snaps with teams incorporating more nickel to combat 11 personnel. Against the pass, Gholston uses his length and power to effectively shoot gaps. Against the run, he attacks the backfield with strength and quickness. Entering his 10th season with Tampa Bay, Gholston comes off a 2021 season where he had a career-high 4.5 sacks.
Then comes the first-year player, Logan Hall out of Houston. Hall is a disruptor, utilizing his powerful swim move to shed blockers. He has superb lateral quickness to slip by offensive linemen and penetrate gaps in the run game. Additionally, he has excellent processing skills to react to both screens and motions. In Doug Belk's multiple fronts, Hall primarily lined up as the three-technique, with experience playing the five-technique during his collegiate career. He will provide an interior pass rush element to solidify the Bucs' defensive front.
"When we start looking at measurables and what we would consider 3-4 prototype measurables, he is 6-foot-6, 285-290 [pounds with a] sub-five flat 40 [yard dash]," said Rodgers. "Those are ideal 3-4 measurables. Really, if you look across the board since we've been here, we've been a prototype team in terms of height, weight, and speed. Then you throw in the fact that this guy is extremely athletic, and as he progressed in his career, he really started rushing the passer pretty [well]. Mix all of that together and we thought [he brings] an element that would really help us."
In 2021, Nunez-Roches played in 16 games (one start), posting a forced fumble, 1.5 sacks, 51 combined tackles, five tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. He moved into the starting lineup in 2020 after Vita Vea fractured an ankle in Week Five. Nunez-Roches played an integral role in the Bucs' dominant front and top ranked run defense in 2020. He started 15 games that year (44% of snaps), including Super Bowl LV, and accumulated 20 tackles and three quarterback hits in the regular season. As a high-motor player with first-step quickness, he provides valuable depth and the ability to plug in and play.
In a new league year with high expectations placed on the franchise in their quest for another Lombardi Trophy, the defensive line will play a key role in the team's success on the gridiron. The esteemed defensive line will once again have to uphold the distinguished recognition of being one of the best in the NFL. The Buccaneers' defensive line will be a unit to watch throughout the offseason as it hits the grass and vies for another title.