Following the 2023 NFL Draft and the height of free agency across the league landscape, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive assistant coaches and the special teams coordinator fielded questions at the podium, addressing several permeating questions during the offseason. Here are several key quotes from the morning address at the AdventHealth Training Center:
Special Teams Coordinator: Keith Armstrong
Jake Camarda, the Bucs' 2022 fourth-round draft pick, put up record-setting numbers during his rookie campaign. Camarda averaged 48.8 gross (team's previous single-season record, 45.9 by Bryan Anger in 2016) and 41.6 net on 79 punts in 2022. Without Camarda consistently flipping field position in favor of the Bucs, the club would have found themselves in many tough situations down the stretch. The former Georgia Bulldog's average punt traveled 59.4 yards from where he kicked it in 2022, which ranked fifth in the NFL. Additionally, Camarda's average hang time of 4.57 seconds was fourth in the league, giving coverage men time to get downfield. Camarda made a significant impact for the Buccaneers in 2022, engendering praise from Special Teams Coordinator, Keith Armstrong.
"The biggest thing is that he really got good at turning the ball over and placing the ball outside the numbers. It's hard for college punters to transfer to the NFL and directionally punt and be able to place the ball outside the numbers. You say, why is that? Well, when you think about it, the hashes in college are almost on the sideline. So, their directional punting at the time the ball is snapped – now, they actually have to take an angle. I think he'll get better going both ways, in terms of what he was to work on. He'll get better at being able to go both right and left and I think he's a guy that can dominate. He does a hell of a job."
Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach: Kacy Rodgers
In the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Bucs selected Pitt's Calijah Kancey to solidify the defensive front. A three-year starter in Pat Narduzzi's base scheme, Kancey lined up everywhere from nose tackle to edge, causing disruption as a pass rusher and run defender. In 2022, he became the first unanimous All-American since Aaron Donald and received ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. 46.8 percent of Kancey's tackles in 2022 came in enemy territory. With an elite get off, superb short-area quickness, violent hands and urgency on the field, Kancey has tantalizing potential in the NFL. Run Game Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers spoke on Kancey's skillset.
"You're talking about a guy who's really, really explosive – that's what we thought. In the past couple years, we've been really big and powerful – now we want to tweak and add some quickness and more explosiveness. A lot of the ways we set our front; we create a lot of valuable matchups for certain people. We play a lot of barrel front, which there are only so many ways to protect it. We put Vita in certain places – there are only so many ways to protect it. So, we're just really looking for more explosiveness and quickness.
"Usually the guys that really get sacks in college usually translate into this league, for the most part. There's somewhat of a transition period where they're adjusting to the way the guards set up on you in this league – but with his skillset, we feel that he'll be able to match up, be able to adjust and be able to make the adjustment rather quickly."
Pass Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach: Larry Foote
SirVocea Dennis joins former Panthers' teammate, Calijah Kancey, in Tampa Bay. Dennis, one of the Bucs' fifth-round draft picks, has the range to cover all areas of the field and led Pitt in tackles each of the previous two seasons. With elite play recognition and the ability to make plays up-and-down the line of scrimmage, Dennis has a high ceiling. He earned a 92.1 run-defense grade and missed fewer than 5% of his tackling opportunities per PFF. Inside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote elaborated on Dennis' football IQ and blitz-ability.
"I was pleased. I was surprised we got him in the fifth round. Like every year, I was surprised [about] the other linebackers that were picked before him, but good for us. He's a smart guy. When you watch him on film you can tell he plays above the neck. He's a good athlete, he's savvy. He plays the game like it should be played. He can blitz – he's got some ability. He can wear a lot of hats for us and [I] was definitely excited about getting him.
"Yes. The times he did do it he understood coverage and underneath. He did blitz a lot [being the] fourth rusher, but he's a smart guy – just being around him on Zoom and seeing him at the Combine. We were pleased."
Safeties Coach: Nick Rapone
Antoine Winfield Jr., the Bucs' second-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, developed into a versatile chess piece, possessing the awareness to line up over the top and the physicality 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 emerged as the Bucs' slot-option in nickel packages. He showcased the ability to line up in the slot and cover, blitz, and to set the edge vs. the run. Winfield finished 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. In 2023, Winfield will be reverting to his former full-time role at free safety, complementing his awareness and "ballhawk" skills to generate turnovers. Safeties Coach Nick Rapone discussed Winfield's switch and noted that the tone-setter will still be featured near the line of scrimmage in blitz packages.
"What it really is, is this: when you play nickel, you have to play man, you have to play zone, you have to work stacks in man, you have to work bunches in man. Most guys in the NFL are corners because what we do in practice is all adjustments. So, it's hard to get Antoine all that man that he needed. So, [Head Coach] Todd [Bowles] and him made the decision what's best moving forward, [is] let's move you back, [and] let's take you out of the nickel. Now in base he's still going to be up close to the line of scrimmage [because] he's our best blitzer, by far. The reason is what that job description is, yeah there wasn't enough time to do all the adjustments and then get him enough man work. So, Todd and him after the season sat down and that's what they came up with."
Cornerbacks Coach: Kevin Ross
The Bucs lost several free agents including Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting, creating vacancies in the secondary that must be filled in 2023. The old cliché phrase, "players must step up," materializes. With a shifting roster, the Bucs will prioritize gaining continuity this season. Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross elaborated on the importance of players learning to feed off one another and creating "chemistry" to breed success on the gridiron.
"Chemistry is a big thing in the secondary, [and] you have to be able to play off of one another. The great secondaries they know where people are going to be, they know exactly what's happening in that defense and they play off of one another. That's the main thing, we've got to get some chemistry back there, we've got to get things [better]. Hopefully nobody gets injured, and we get set back that way because that's what's been happening the last couple of years. We've had to change secondary people, in and out. They don't know each other; they don't know how each other's going to react during the game. Practice and the game [are] totally different deals."
Outside Linebackers Coach: George Edwards
During his second year, outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka showed impressive flashes but never reached his ceiling. Finishing at the top of rushes to close on quarterbacks will be a primary focus for Tryon-Shoyinka entering Year Three, affirmed by his position coach George Edwards. In 2022, Tryon-Shoyinka accumulated 41 tackles (23 solo), six tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and two passes defensed. With elite bend for his frame and a high motor, Tryon-Shoyinka possesses untapped potential. As he continues to develop his arsenal of counters, Tryon-Shoyinka will refine his craft. Edwards, who was hired by the Bucs in February to coach the outside linebackers, described his impression of Tryon-Shoyinka since arriving in Tampa Bay.
"You see a guy that skillset-wise can do a lot of different jobs. Between dropping, rushing and playing behind the ball, he has a unique skillset. I think the more that he grows and the more he is comfortable within the system… you can see he's not thinking as much right now, at least in the phase that we're in right now as far as the training part of it. Now, I think you'll see a lot more of his athleticism taking off where he's not thinking as much and just going and playing. Joe – I've really been impressed with him. I've only been with the guys probably about seven days, but just with the habits and work habits that he's exhibiting right now, I foresee him feeling pretty comfortable. The terminology and all of that is the same. We're doing some tweaks to some things schematically, but I think he really does a nice job of paying attention to the details of those things. Same way with 'Nelly' (Anthony Nelson) – he has done a great job thus far in that."