A new league year begins, ushering in change. From free agency departures, 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. For the Bucs outside linebacker corps, new leadership will take form on the gridiron.
The Buccaneers have yet to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul, if he does not return in a Bucs' jersey, tone-setter Shaq Barrett and second-year player Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will hold down the middle of the defense. Veterans Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill will add rotational depth, along with this year's seventh-round draft pick Andre Anthony.
The Bucs' defensive coaches spoke on Tuesday to provide insight on the position group heading into the offseason. In discussing a larger role in Year 2 for Tryon-Shoyinka, outside linebackers coach, Bob Sanders described, "He's just experienced a lot of it, and actually learning some of the things that work. I tried to put together some things of like-bodied players that he can see that have been successful in the league – the fundamentals that work. I don't think you can coach him the same way you do [Anthony] Nelson, or the same way you do Shaq [Barrett]. Everybody is different."
"The fundamentals are the same, but everybody is different. Again, I think with Joe, a lot of it is mindset too. Just angles and understanding what his advantages are and hopefully be able to look at an offensive lineman and see what their weaknesses are. So that's what I've tried to work in the offseason with Joe – mainly some mental things. And because he has tremendous talent. He's a tremendously talented individual, so trying to take those things and make him a better player."
The Bucs selected Tryon-Shoyinka in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Washington. He was asked to play multiple positions during his rookie campaign in order to maximize his time on the field. Tryon-Shoyinka rushed from the edge, the three-technique spot and he served as an off-ball linebacker. He is comfortable dropping into shallow zone coverages and moving laterally as a coverage player carrying tight ends. He concluded the season with 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, three passes defensed and 4.0 sacks in 560 defensive snaps (17 games played). Pierre-Paul became an unrestricted free agent in March after suffering a shoulder injury that limited him to 12 games and 2.5 sacks (601 snaps). Tryon-Shoyinka will have the opportunity to cement a starting role opposite Shaquil Barrett. He will likely get to specialize in one area as a 3-4 defensive end/OLB, being able to flash his pursuit skills in space and ability to close on the quarterback. Having a five-technique to occupy offensive tackles will free up Tryon-Shoyinka to make plays.
Barrett, the club's star defender, has averaged 12.5 sacks per season with the Bucs. In 2021, he accumulated 51 tackles, 10.0 sacks, an interception, nine tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits. As one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the league, Barrett is known for his rare bend. After being a backup in Denver for multiple seasons, the Bucs gave Barrett the spotlight and he has embodied that excellence on the field. With a lethal spin move and terrific get-off, he sends quarterbacks running for their lives. Barrett is constantly in the backfield due to superb vision and anticipation skills. He uses his leverage and power to get by tackles but despite the many accolades in his résumé, there is always room for improvement as Bob Sanders pointed out.
"He's definitely an excellent, excellent player," Sanders stated. "He's a great person too. He has a great work ethic. He's coachable – he's in the room, he's listening. I think everybody – on all levels – every single year you want to get better fundamentally to do the little things. I've tried to tweak as much as I could just watching the tape, and I try not to tell him anything I cannot prove by tape, and he's been very receptive because he's a coachable guy. He's a leader. Like I said, his work ethic, not only on the field but in the classroom has been good. I think he's in for another big year – I really do."
Four-year veteran Anthony Nelson finished the 2021 season with a career-best 5.0 sacks and will be competing for an increased role. The remaining depth options, features Cam Gill, who played 100 snaps and posted 1.0 sack last year, Elijah Ponder, who spent part of last year on the practice squad and rookie Andre Anthony.
However the outside linebacker corps shakes out when the season begins, the unit will be one to watch as the Buccaneers' push for another Lombardi trophy in Tampa Bay.