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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Upcoming Depth Decisions: Defense & Special Teams

A look at potential depth numbers at the positions on defense and special teams, where the hardest cuts will likely be at outside linebacker


The NFL's deadline for trimming rosters to 53 players for the 2023 regular season is next Tuesday, August 29 at 4:00 p.m. ET. Between now and then, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the league's other 31 teams have to make some difficult decisions to carve the best possible roster out of a 90-man training camp. On Wednesday, we examined what that meant from a numbers standpoint at each position on offense. Now we do the same for defense and special teams.

Defensive Line

·    Number on the 90-man roster: 10

·    Number kept through cuts in 2022: 6

·    Listed starter(s): Vita Vea, Logan Hall, Calijah Kancey

·    Returning players: Vea, Hall, Will Gholston, Mike Greene, Patrick O'Connor, Willington Previlon, Deadrin Senat

·    2023 Additions: Kancey, Greg Gaines, C.J. Brewer

The Buccaneers have tended to go at least six deep at this position, and sometimes more, since Todd Bowles brought in his 3-4 base defense in 2019 because there tends to be a lot of rotating of defensive linemen on game day. The Bucs had seven players take snaps on the D-Line in 2022 and not one of them played more than 59% of the total. Even though there are seven players in this group that were either on the Bucs' active roster or practice squad last year, there is still going to be a significant amount of turnover in this group. Akiem Hicks and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who accounted for over 1,000 combined defensive snaps last year, are no longer around and there are two new projected starters in Hall and Kancey, the Bucs' top picks from the last two drafts. Kancey has been sidelined by a calf injury since early in training camp but his original projection of three missed weeks would have him ready to go for the regular season. The Buccaneers have also frequently devoted multiple practice squad spots to this position in recent years, so they may able to keep most of the players on the current list in one way or another.

Outside Linebacker

·    Number on the 90-man roster: 9

·    Number kept through cuts in 2022: 4

·    Listed starter(s): Shaquil Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

·    Returning players: Barrett, Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson, Cam Gill, Hamilcar Rashed, Charles Snowden

·    2023 Additions: Yaya Diaby, Jose Ramirez, Markees Watts

Head Coach Todd Bowles has pinpointed this position as the one that will prove toughest to cut down, believing that all nine players, from former NFL sack champ Barrett all the way through undrafted rookie Watts has the talent to be a legitimate NFL player. The Bucs created that depth of talent by re-signing Nelson when he hit free agency this spring and spending third and sixth-round draft picks on Diaby and Ramirez, respectively. As such, this seems like a prime position at which the Bucs could run deeper in 2023 than they did last year. That would be more palatable if one or more of the depth players at the position had a role of some significance on special teams, which Gill and Nelson have had in the past and Diaby could find as a rookie. Not only did the Bucs stick with just four edge rushers through most of last year but they had to force Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson into virtual every-down duty – a rarity at the position – after injuries to Barrett and Carl Nassib. The Bucs don't want to be in that position again and they don't want to let any true edge-rushing talent get out of the building if they can help it.

Inside Linebacker

·    Number on the 90-man roster: 7

·    Number kept through cuts in 2022: 4

·    Listed starter(s): Lavonte David, Devin White

·    Returning players: David, White, K.J. Britt, Ulysees Gilbert, J.J. Russell

·    2023 Additions: SirVocea Dennis, Brandon Bouyer-Randle

The Bucs held four off-ball linebackers on the 53-man roster for the majority of the season in 2022 but commonly made it five on game day by elevating another one, such as Gilbert or Russell, from the practice squad, and that fifth player usually played extensively on special teams. In fact, all of the reserve linebackers behind David and White should expect to see a lot of work in the third phase of the game. Britt was the primary backup to both David and White last year but really only played on defense when the Bucs pulled most of their starters in a low-stakes Week 18 game at Atlanta. This season, the main reserve role could be split between Britt and the rookie Dennis, a fifth-round pick who was seen as a potential contributor on defense in 2023. Given the possibility of practice squad spots, this may be the position on defense where the Bucs have to say the fewest goodbyes by next Tuesday.


·    Number on the 90-man roster: 10

·    Number kept through cuts in 2022: 5

·    Listed starter(s): Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean

·    Returning players: Davis, Dean, Zyon McCollum, Dee Delaney, Don Gardner, Anthony Chesley

·    2023 Additions: Josh Hayes, Keenan Isaac, Derrek Pitts, Rodarius Williams

If the Buccaneers choose to start the same number of cornerbacks as they did a year ago, they'll have to cut this group in half, and that won't necessarily be easy. Davis and Dean have each received new multi-year contracts in the past two years and are obviously where this position starts, but coaches have talked about a bigger role this season for Zyon McCollum, a fifth-round pick in 2022 who is said to have a much better grasp on the defense in Year Two. Delaney and Hayes are both seen as versatile players who can play inside and outside and even potentially at safety, which are useful assets when the team is trying to decide how deep to go at each position. Isaac, one of two undrafted rookies along with Derrek Pitts, started each of the first two preseason games opposite McCollum with the coaches choosing to keep Davis and Dean out of harm's way.


·    Number on the 90-man roster: 8

·    Number kept through cuts in 2022: 4

·    Listed starter(s): Antoine Winfield Jr., Ryan Neal

·    Returning players: Winfield, Nolan Turner

·    2023 Additions: Neal, Christian Izien, Kaevon Merriweather, Kedrick Whitehead, Avery Young, Richard LeCounte

With Mike Edwards, Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan all departing or still unsigned in free agency, Winfield is the only returning safety with significant experience on the roster. The Buccaneers were fortunate enough to land Neal when the Seahawks elected to remove their restricted free agency tender on him, so they have a pair of safeties who have started in the NFL. Beyond those two, however, the other six safeties on the roster have combined for one career snap, that one logged last year by Turner, then an undrafted rookie who spent most of the season on the Bucs' practice squad. Izien, Merriweather, Whitehead and Young are all undrafted rookies while LeCounte, just added to the roster earlier this week, is a former fifth-round pick by the Browns. Izien is currently considered the front-runner for the wide-open slot corner job but remains listed as a safety and would obviously grab one of the remaining spots at the position if he holds onto that assignment. Complicating the decision-making process at this position is the fact that Winfield, Izien and Whitehead have all recently been dealing with minor injuries that have kept them off the field.


·    Number on the 90-man roster: 4

·    Number kept through cuts in 2022: 3

·    Listed starter(s): None

·    Returning players: Jake Camarda (punter), Zach Triner (long-snapper)

·    2023 Additions: Chase McLaughlin (placekicker), Evan Deckers (long-snapper)

There's not much analysis needed here. Camarda was a fourth-round draft pick in 2022 and the Buccaneers believe he has Pro Bowl potential after he shattered several franchise records as a rookie. McLaughlin, signed in March after a strong 2022 season with the Colts, won the team's placekicking job when Rodrigo Blankenship was waived on Monday. The only remaining decision to be made is whether to stick with the incumbent long-snapper, Triner, or give the job instead to Deckers, an undrafted rookie out of Duke.

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