Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is almost sure to play a great deal more in his second NFL season. However, he might actually be asked to do a little bit less.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' young outside linebacker, picked 32nd overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, is the logical choice to step into a starting role in 2022 if veteran pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul does not re-sign with the team. Pierre-Paul became an unrestricted free agent in March after a season in which a painful shoulder injury limited him to 12 games and 2.5 sacks. Even with that limitation, though, the always eager to play Pierre-Paul still soaked up 601 defensive snaps, which was 41 more than Tryon-Shoyinka got in a full 17 contests.
It's not that the Buccaneers' coaching staff didn't want Tryon-Shoyinka and his pass-rushing potential in the game; in fact, the rookie was asked to play a number of different positions to increase the ways he could get on the field. That included rushing from the edge and from the three-technique defensive line spot, as well as some work as an off-ball linebacker. If Tryon-Shoyinka does end up being a direct replacement for Pierre-Paul in the starting lineup in 2022, occupying whichever end of the line that is opposite of Shaquil Barrett, he would likely get the opportunity to focus almost solely on that position.
"That's the plan, to play one position. But at the end of the day a sack is a sack no matter where you get it from," said Tryon-Shoyinka. "Could be the three-tech, outside 'backer – just try to make it happen."
Barrett gives the Bucs at least one premier edge rusher, having averaged 12.5 sacks per season in his three years with the team. Fourth-year man Anthony Nelson finished the 2021 season on a strong note and recorded a career-best 5.0 sacks, and he too would be a candidate for a starting spot. The Bucs do not have a ton of depth at the position though, as the rest of the current group consists only of Cam Gill, who played 100 defensive snaps and had 1.0 sack last year, and Elijah Ponder, a 2021 undrafted free agent who spent part of last year on the practice squad. However Tryon-Shoyinka's role shapes up this fall, the Bucs will be counting on getting more production from him. The team's elder statesman on defense thinks they will simply because Tryon-Shoyinka's role will be more streamlined.
"There was a lot on Joe's plate," said inside linebacker Lavonte David. "People may not know, but he had to do a lot of different things for us just because you had to get him on the field, a guy like that. He played a lot of different positions for us, even played some stand-up linebacker sometimes. His upside is real good. Now he's got the opportunity to be a full-time starter and show what he can do, and I'm looking forward to that. He showed flashes at times that he did have the chance to play a full game. Now that he's getting an opportunity to play a full 17 games it should be a great season for him."
Tryon-Shoyinka may find himself more comfortable playing a single position, but he's already more at ease entering his second offseason at the AdventHealth Training Center.
"It's like night and day," said the former University of Washington standout. "Coming in as a rookie you're just trying to find the right building, the right room to meet in. Now that you're comfortable you can just get in your own flow and just get back to your own game. You just feel like you're getting back to your old self, pretty much.
"Last year was kind of just learning the whole program, the ins and outs of that. Now I feel like I'm pretty comfortable with that. It's just how to hit the ground running, and some things I just need to fine-tune to get to that next level of my game."
Tryon-Shoyinka and a good number of his teammates made it back to Bucs headquarters on Monday as the team began the first phase of its voluntary offseason program. The first few weeks of the program are limited mostly to weight room work, rehabilitation and a small amount of classroom time, but it won't be long before the players are back on the field and getting tutelage from the coaching staff. The second-year player knows he has work to do to get the most out of the talents that made him a first-round draft pick even after he didn't play during the 2020 college season.
"Just fine-tuning the things that I see that fits," said Tryon-Shoyinka of his focus for offseason work. "Just getting stronger, faster. Try to stay in shape. A lot of different things I see in my game that I can just improve on and just focus on those things. Just the little things that show up on film – head placement, pad level, things like that. Just technique."
Tryon-Shoyinka finished his first NFL season with a relatively modest stat line, adding 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and three passes defensed to his 4.0 sacks. He had just one sack in the last eight games of the season, even with Pierre-Paul missing time in the final month. But, as David noted, he showed signs that there would be more to come and, perhaps more importantly, made it out of his rookie campaign in good shape, mentally and physically, and with his career trajectory pointed in the right direction.
"I'm just happy I was healthy the whole time, really just being available," said Tryon-Shoyinka. "That's the best ability, in my opinion. Just making it through that, having a positive mindset and being able to come out with things to learn, things to improve on. Just hit the ground running for Year Two."