Better, worse or the same? Bucs defense relying on same cast to grow better

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have had one of the splashiest offseasons of any NFL team in signing Tom Brady and trading for Rob Gronkowski, but what about their defense? Did they make enough moves to be a legitimate playoff contender despite adding few new players?

Here’s a position-by-position look at whether the Bucs are better, worse or the same as the 2019 team on defense, and key areas to watch for.

And in case you missed it, here’s a closer look at the offense.

Defensive line

Additions: Khalil Davis (sixth round, draft), Benning Potoa’e (undrafted)

Losses: Beau Allen, Sam Acho

Returners: Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, Will Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Patrick O’Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter

Snaps played 2019: Suh (826), Vea (717), Gholston (470), Nunez-Roches (276), O’Connor (25), Ledbetter (0)

Better, worse or same? Same

The Bucs will miss the depth and leadership Allen provided, but Davis has a great shot at stepping into that role — he moves really well for a guy who is 6-foot-1 and 308 pounds, clocking a 4.75 40 time at the NFL combine. Ledbetter had a strong camp last year before suffering an ankle injury. Potoa’e (6-foot-3 and 295 pounds) played with Vea at Washington, starting 23 games at outside linebacker before moving to the interior of the defensive line.

Outside linebackers

Additions: Michael Divinity Jr. (undrafted), Cam Gill (undrafted), Nasir Player (undrafted)

Losses: Carl Nassib

Returners: Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Anthony Nelson, Kahzin Daniels, Quinton Bell

Snaps played 2019: Barrett (836), Pierre-Paul (556), Nelson (146), Daniels (3), Bell (0)

Better, worse or same? Same, but possibly worse

The Bucs’ biggest goal this offseason on defense was to bring back both Barrett and Pierre-Paul — players both capable of reaching double-digit sacks — and they accomplished that. They’ll also get a full season out of Pierre-Paul, assuming he remains healthy. But they have unproven depth behind that. Who will step in as a key rotational player in Carl Nassib‘s absence? Nelson could be the one, but that’s a lot to ask from a player who saw limited action in 2019. There’s a strong possibility the Bucs look to the waiver wire for an addition here. Kahzin Daniels suffered a knee injury and spent a portion of his rookie season on the practice squad, while Bell — a converted wide receiver with 4.38 speed — is still learning the nuances of the position.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Chapelle Russell (seventh round, draft)

Losses: None

Returners: Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy, Noah Dawkins

Snaps played 2019: David (1,067), White (782), Minter (260), Dawkins (3), Cichy (1)

Better, worse or same? Same

David and White will continue to start, with Minter serving as the backup for both spots. Cichy, a high-effort player and strong special-teams performer, is coming off a season-ending elbow injury. Russell has an incredible story, having overcome two torn ACLs in the same knee in college, eviction and his father dying of cancer. The Bucs like his aggression and instincts and believe he can carve out a role for himself on special teams.


Additions: Parnell Motley (undrafted)

Losses: None

Returners: Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Ryan Smith, M.J. Stewart, Mazzi Wilkins, Herb Miller, John Franklin

Snaps played 2019: Davis (884), Murphy-Bunting (653), Dean (350), Stewart (296), Wilkins (11), Franklin (2), Miller (0)

Better, worse or same? Same

Davis, Murphy-Bunting and Dean are all expected to reclaim their starting roles, so any improvement will come from another year of coaching. Davis doesn’t have great speed (he ran a 4.53 in the 40) or ball skills, but he’s got length (6-foot-1 and 205 pounds) and he’s physical at the line of scrimmage. When he gets his hands on receivers it’s a problem, and he did much better as the season progressed cutting down on penalties. Murphy-Bunting is instinctive, smart and can handle both outside and nickelback roles, while Dean has a very rare blend of size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) and speed (he ran a 4.3 at the NFL combine). Smith isn’t much of a press corner but he has great catch-up speed and can play off. Wilkins spent much of last year on the practice squad. He doesn’t have great testing speed, but he plays faster on the field and has a work ethic the coaches like.


Additions: Antoine Winfield Jr. (second round, draft), Deiondre’ Hall, Javon Hagan (undrafted)

Losses: Darian Stewart

Returners: Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards, Justin Evans, Andrew Adams

Snaps played 2019: Whitehead (866), Edwards (584), Adams (582), Evans (0)

Better, worse or same? Better

Whitehead came to the Bucs as an undersized thumper but has shown his effectiveness in coverage. Winfield brings ball-hawking ability to a group that notched just two picks last year; he had seven in his final collegiate season at Minnesota. Edwards was slowed by a hamstring injury early last season, which hampered his development. Evans is a big question mark because he missed all of last season with foot and ankle problems — issues he struggled with in 2018.

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