Ending The “SAM Syndrome”

May 19th, 2017


There’s no job considered more expendable in the National Football League than playing strong-side linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Also known as the “SAM,” these guys come and go at One Buc Place like autumn leaves.

Need proof?

Since 1995, the Bucs have used Lonnie Marts, Rufus Porter, Jeff Gooch, Shelton Quarles, Al Singleton, Ryan Nece, Ian Gold, Cato June, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Danny Lansanah and Daryl Smith as starters on the left side.

It appears this will be second-year pro Devante Bond’s job to lose in training camp, although he may be pushed when rookie Kendell Beckworth fully recovers from a torn ACL suffered six months ago.

You would think defensive coordinator Mike Smith would be concerned about the retirement of savvy veteran Daryl Smith, but I’m not sensing much worry at Buc headquarters. Maybe that’s because anytime Tampa Bay’s “SAM” turns in a splash play, it’s considered gravy, a gift from the football gods.

26-Year Drought

Strong-side linebackers for the Bucs rarely get their name in the newspaper or a mention on local sports talk radio. Heck, it’s considered a miracle when you see them pop up on the video board at Raymond James Stadium.

You can understand why all those “SAMS” in pewter were relatively anonymous when Derrick Brooks was carving out a Hall of Fame career on the weak side in the iconic Tampa 2. That scheme was designed for Brooks to make plays — and he made a ton of ’em on the way to Canton.

But Brooks hasn’t made a tackle since Jon Gruden stalked the sidelines and the Bucs have steadily veered away from the Tampa 2.

Still, the search for a strong-side playmaker goes on.

By definition, the “SAM” position requires a lot of grunt work. He is usually responsible for taking on the lead blocker and holding the edge so someone else can make the stop. He is often tasked with covering tight ends in the intermediate zones.

The vast majority of the time, Tampa Bay’s strong-side linebacker is lifted when the Bucs are in the nickel, so we’re talking about a player who is off the field 65 percent of the time.

No wonder no “SAM” linebacker for the Bucs has earned a Pro Bowl berth since the franchise switched to a four-man front in 1991.

The Bucs believe Beckwith has a chance to end all this anonymity.

“It depends on if that strong-side linebacker that you’re looking at has value as a pass rusher, or some kind of value as a fifth rusher or in coverage,” says Jason Licht. “If he’s strictly a two-down player, he’s probably not going to be as high on this board. Beckwith has played with his hand down — he’s rushed and he’s played on the line of scrimmage. So those are all things that you look for in a ‘SAM,’ being able to butt heads and play physical.”

Talent Shift

The Jaguars are switching Myles Jack to middle linebacker this fall and moving veteran Paul Posluszny to the strong side.

“SAM will be on the ball more – lining up on a tight end, which I’ve never done before,” Posluszny says. “That will be a challenge.”

Atlanta has big plans for first-round pick Takkarist McKinley, utilizing him on the strong side while in base coverage and at right end when the Falcons are in nickel.

Now it’s Mr. Bond’s turn to solve this mystery. Lansanah looked like a keeper in 2014, when he picked off three passes from the strong side, returning two for scores.

But by March of 2016, the Bucs decided it wasn’t worth their while to even tender Lansanah as a restricted free agent. He hasn’t played a down since, and he’s still looking for a job.

Another victim of the SAM syndrome.

11 Responses to “Ending The “SAM Syndrome””

  1. Pickgrin Says:

    This is Beckwith’s spot to lose if his health recovery can be achieved as hoped/expected.

    You don’t jump up into the bottom of the 3rd round for a position that at best plays 40% of the time unless you feel really good about the talent you are getting.

    Beckwith fits that bill and provides good insurance at MLB as well which was sorely lacking after Daryl Smiths departure.

  2. WhatdaBUCisthis Says:

    Total faith in Coach Smith…

  3. Bucsfanman Says:

    He’s got versatility and that will be what keeps him on the field.

  4. TvD head ball coach Says:

    Everything is pointing towards playing more 3 – 4 defense.
    In that case we will need beckwith and spence to play outside linebackers with their hands on the ground.

    This should help in the sack department as well as stuffing the run!

  5. Dusthty Rhothdes Says:

    Sam linebacker is there is even one in the game anymore are going like the dinasaur in the pass happy spread league, the Sam is going to be the rush end…most teams play a 4-2-5 defense these days anyways or a 3-3-5….the big bada$$ run stuffing sam is no longer needed accept short yardage or run situations

  6. Casual Observer Says:

    This guy is talented. One film I saw showed a truly explosive move to nail the QB in the backfield. The QB never saw him coming. I hope he does that a time or two with the Bucs.

  7. Dirks Great Gran Pappy Says:


    Beckwith would be in the middle with Kwon in a 34. Spence and lavonte would be rushing from the outside

  8. unbelievable Says:

    Love that we’re gonna switch up between 4-3 and 3-4 alignments.

    I just hope it’s more successful that the “hybrid” defense Smitty tried to run in Atl. I think we’ve got the horses, just need their heads on straight.

  9. Rod Munch Says:

    Shelton Quarles had a pretty good career once he moved inside. Of course Kwon should hopefully be our MLB for the next decade or so, but I’ve always viewed the SAM as a position where you plug in someone off the street like last year or you develop a young guy for a big role down the road.

  10. biff barker Says:

    It’s also about depth. He’s your new Mike if Kwon goes down.

  11. Capt.Tim Says:

    Dirks- thats the lineup I expect to see alot of, on 1st and 2nd down.
    Since we cant serm to land any DEs, the 3-4 is a great defense for Run stopping. And will let Ayers be used a a Pass rush specialist.
    A good idea, at 33.

    Its a matter of best using the players we have.