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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Toughest Cuts Will Be at Outside Linebacker

After working to build edge-rushing depth throughout the 2023 offseason, the Buccaneers may find themselves with more talented OLBs than they can keep on the active roster when cuts arrive in three weeks


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have a problem when the NFL's cut-down date arrives in a little less than three weeks. It will, however, be the proverbial "good problem to have."

Carving a 53-man regular season roster out of a 90-player training camp is never easy, but the hardest part for a coaching staff is when it has to cut a player who clearly has proven he belongs in the NFL. Since teams are generally loathe to let go of any person who fits that category, it usually only happens when there are too many good options clustered at one specific position.

For the 2023 Buccaneers, that position is outside linebacker.

Tampa Bay's first depth chart of the season, released on Tuesday, features a total of nine players at the two edge rusher spots. During the 2022 season, the Buccaneers kept four players at that position on the 53-man roster for all but two of the 18 regular-season weeks. For three weeks in the middle of the season, after veteran Genard Avery was promoted from the practice squad and before Shaquil Barrett landed on injured reserve, the Bucs carried five outside linebackers. In 2021, the team started the season with four OLBs on the active roster than pushed it to five when Cam Gill came off injured reserve.

As such, it is reasonable to assume the Buccaneers will keep at least four outside linebackers to start the season, and quite possibly five given the depth of talent at the position. If they can make the numbers work at other positions, the coaches might even be tempted to hold onto six of them. Head Coach Todd Bowles said he hadn't settled on a final number yet. He and his staff have until Tuesday, August 29 to figure it out.

"Yes, definitely, primarily at outside linebacker," said Head Coach Todd Bowles when asked on Wednesday if 53-man roster decisions were going to be more difficult this summer. "All of them can play. That's going to be the toughest one. We have some competition at other spots, but from top to bottom, the outside linebacker room is probably the toughest one because all of these guys can play in this league."

The Bucs don't find themselves in this position by accident. In 2020, they had a strong and deep pass rush that particularly came alive in the playoffs. Most notably, Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for 5.0 sacks of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game. Barrett and Pierre-Paul continued to headline the Bucs' edge rush in 2021 but were joined by first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and an emerging Anthony Nelson. However, Pierre-Paul departed after that season and Barrett was lost at midseason in 2022 to an Achilles tendon tear. Notably, Nelson and Tryon-Shoyinka played nearly every defensive snap over the last month of the regular season, which is unusual at a position that usually relies on a rotation to keep everyone's legs fresh.

So the team architects went to work at the outside linebacker position in the 2023 offseason. Nelson briefly hit free agency but the Bucs were able to lure him back with a two-year contract. On the second day of the 2023 draft, the team used its third-round pick on Lousville pass-rusher Yaya Diaby, who has shown tantalizing power and speed in camp practices so far. On the third day of the draft, the Bucs doubled up with Eastern Michigan outside linebacker Jose Ramirez, who has innate pass-rushing skills reminiscent of Barrett.

Meanwhile, Barrett worked his way back from that Achilles injury and was a pleasant surprise as a full-go to start training camp. In addition, Gill is back for another shot at the roster after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury in last year's preseason opener. Gill only got 100 defensive snaps in 2021 but still contributed 1.5 sacks and three QB hits.

Two players who finished the season the Bucs' practice squad, Hamilcar Rashed and Charles Snowden, were re-signed to futures contracts in January, further deepening that position for camp. Finally, Charlotte product Markees Watts was signed as a rookie free agent out of the draft. Through in the possibility that the Bucs will find some ways to use rookie off-ball linebacker SirVocea Dennis off the corner at times, and there are more attractive edge-rushing options than the Buccaneers are going to be able to keep, at least on the 53-man roster. The 16-man practice squad could offer a couple more spots to keep these players around, but before any of them can be signed to that unit they have to pass through waivers after the cut-down date.

Barrett and Tryon-Shoyinka are the listed starters on that first depth chart, and Nelson's new contract and wealth of experience make him a good bet to be a prominent part of the OLB rotation this year. If the Buccaneers can't stomach the thought of exposing either of their 2023 draft picks to the waiver wire, then the count is already up to five. Will the Buccaneers be forced to go even deeper? Either way, there are difficult decisions ahead.

"We'll see what the other positions bring," said Bowles. "We'll measure it against other positions and see who comes in the matter of importance and we'll go from there."

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp practice on 8/9/23.

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