Safeties Coach: M.J. Stewart Is A Nickel, Top Blitzer, Compares Him To Tyrann Mathieu

May 1st, 2019

Joe is a bit confused after talking with and listening to Buccaneers defensive coaches this afternoon.

Longtime Bruce Arians friend and Bucs safeties coach Nick Rapone was at the podium talking about roles and functions within the Todd Bowles defense. Rapone spent five years as defensive backs coach in Arizona with Arians.

General manager Jason Licht said two months ago that M.J. Stewart is moving to safety. It was quite a proclamation about the Bucs’ initial second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Stewart was drafted as a cornerback but looked too slow for the position.

Rapone said today that Stewart will get every chance to win the nickel cornerback job, which is up for grabs.

“We’re going to attempt to put M.J. [Stewart] at nickel position and then play [him at] some free safety. M.J.’s never played safety, so it’s going to be a learning process,” Rapone said.

Rapone expanded on Stewart and the nickel role.

“In our system, the No. 1 person that blitzes is the nickel. He is a physical player. He was a rookie. There is a learning curve. Our nickels have to blitz. Our nickels have to play man-to-man. He has the innate skills to play man to man; he’s physical enough to blitz. So we’re basing it on what he can do based on what we saw.”

Asked if Stewart has enough quick twitch and speed to succeed, Rapone was candid and compared him to a true superstar.

“Enough of it at the nickel, not at a corner, but at the nickel. Because remember, the nickel a lot of times is the guy that’s protected. And you can always double with the nickel. But that nickel also has to play run support. He’s a very good special teams player; he’s a physical kid. And the nickel in our scheme has to be physical, not finesse.

“Like the Honey Badger [Tyrann Mathieu], everybody talks [about him], he was physical. He would throw is body around. We are looking at M.J. as the same type of player.”

Lots of Bucs coaches today talked about raised expectations. When it comes to Stewart, they aren’t kidding.

63 Responses to “Safeties Coach: M.J. Stewart Is A Nickel, Top Blitzer, Compares Him To Tyrann Mathieu”

  1. bucsfaninchina Says:

    saw nothing last year that would suggest any of this lol keeping an open mind, win that job, MJ!

  2. AlteredEgo Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. Says:

    it’ll be awhile before the water clears….what a mess…

  3. BucEmUp Says:

    What a breath of fresh air it is to have REAL coaching

  4. Bob in Valrico Says:

    I can see M J as a nickel nicke, but doesn,t the free safety have to cover a lot of ground quickly ? Kinda why they after speed with their DB picks in the draft. He does have the build of a safety ,but why not stong safety?

  5. JabooBuc Says:

    Starting to think that Jason may have been conflicted over the past couple of years in drafting players more suited to his past with the Cardinals than with what Dirk and Mike Smith may have wanted. Just seems like on the defensive side of the ball the players drafted may fit better for what Bruce and Todd like to do.

  6. Sport Says:

    OMG! 2 in a row. Coaches coaching, players playing. There is your QB pressure answer and why they drafted so much secondary.

    In BA I Trust!

  7. Jean Lafitte Says:

    If he plays like Mathieu, it will be an unexpected plus.

  8. AlteredEgo Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. Says:

    So …the defensive backfield is totally up fro grabs…NO starters penciled in at this point unless I am forgetting someone…anyone care to name anyone of the 11 starters on defense as of today

  9. Sport Says:

    Imagine sending the nickel on a blitz, the MLB has to protect that part of the field, he either gets there or D White takes away the easy safety valve. That should be enough head turning from the QB to throw it away or take the sack.

    Reminds me of Ronde coming off the edge and Brooks roaming the center.

    Sounds like fun.

  10. 813bucboi Says:

    i thought the safety from kentucky was going to play the nickle/safety role?….

    GO BUCS!!!

  11. jerseybuc Says:

    So, our new safety coach says what we all saw last year. MJ is NOT an outside corner. So, why was he the first corner we took last year? Who made that call? Obviously Licht made the pick, so it is on him, but who pushed for him? Coaches? Do we have the same scouts we have had the last few years still onboard? The pick went against the general consensus of most analysts, and while the teams know more than the media and we do, what drove the decision?
    I wish him the best, I am just confused as to what everyone saw with this kid.

  12. SCBucsFan Says:

    I don’t care what these guys are drafted as, if they are athletes and can play find the best place for them. Good coaches do that.

  13. JGhoti86 Says:

    I said I’d put FULL faith in this coaching staff and their decisions. If they think that’s a possibility and see more out of him than what we saw out of him last year for the Bucs, then that’s potentially good news. I’ll believe it when I see it, but won’t doubt this staffs’ credentials and analysis until proven otherwise.

  14. Pete Mitchell Says:

    These guys are going to say a lot of thing from now, through training camp, and into the regular season.

    A lot of what they’ve said, to me, sounds like double speak, coach speak, wishful think, bullispit. I’m having a hard time listening to any of it.

    Bottom line is, they better freakin win!


  15. Cobraboy Says:

    Either Mike Smith was correct, or Todd Bowles and his staff are correct.

    Who are you going to believe and trust?

  16. EvolvingBucsFan Says:

    It will be hard enough to transition a 2nd year not so good CB to saftey, why even bring up honey badger?

    I’ll hold my bias till they see the field. The past regimes have ruined a lot of Bucs fans hopes. White should be a great asset and as far as the rest of the new talent we got and our rookies from last year I’m very interested to see what this regime can do with their “strengths” with coaching and scheme.

    It’s all hot air till we see results and that is what we have been waiting for- for too long.

  17. TouchDownTampaBay Says:

    They drafted 2 corners and a safety. Dont think MJ is really a part of their plans.

  18. BigPoppaBuc Says:

    It’s going to be a battle royale in training camp between a bunch of young, hungry DBs. This time last year we were naively hoping Grimes still had the balls to play ball and that Hargreaves would suddenly become great and stay healthy. The result was horrendous. This year maybe we have enough competition and coaching to finally start getting some turnovers and stop letting QBs just play catch.

  19. Hodad Says:

    Saw him as a nickel last year, he was to slow. Guy’s could just run away from him on crossing routes, that why he was going to try safety this year. Hopefully he will be a good ST’s player, and fill in. Don’t see this kid ever being a starter. Let’s face it, like all the head scratching picks in this years draft, M.J. Stewart was a head scratcher where he was picked last year.

  20. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    813bucboi Says:
    May 1st, 2019 at 12:35 pm
    “I thought the safety from kentucky was going to play the nickle/safety role?”

    Competition and depth.

  21. gotbbucs Says:

    Everybody on here talking as if you can’t have multiple players at the same position on a 53 man roster. This team has been razor thin in the DB since forever, and people want to bitch about now possibly having some options back there?

    No player in our defense that came in during the Mike Smith years should be judged before we see them on the field with a DC in charge that has enough balls to play pressure football.
    LVD was an All Pro caliber linebacker before Lovie and Mike neutered him.

  22. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    Hodad Says:
    May 1st, 2019 at 12:48 pm
    “Saw him as a nickel last year, he was to slow… ”

    Many rookies play slow their first year as the adjust to the NFL. Don’t be surprised if he comes in faster this year.

  23. rrsrq Says:

    The NFL Network showed Jets v. Browns yesterday, a lot tackles made in the backfield, esp. LBs. CBs pressing, and getting hands on balls, except for some spectacular catches, but definitely not what we saw, receivers running open with nobody within 5-10 yards

  24. Isaac haggins Says:

    I think it’s called lacking speed and a second round Licht I will show the world pick !!! The guy does have some ability he just has some major limitations you hv to coach around !! I think Licht learned a lesson that college all star games are not the nfl and speed or lack there of is hard to hide in the nfl

  25. Snook Says:

    Bucs fans – Throw out any idea or evaluation you have of our defensive players that were here for the Mike Smith era only.

    His defense was GARBAGE. That is known throughout the league.

    So before you take a dump on any second or third year guys here, wipe the slate clean. This is a new coaching staff with a different mentality.

  26. lowercaseg Says:

    Rewatch that Chicago game and keep your eyes on MJ. 🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮

  27. JabooBuc Says:

    It appears they place a high value on versatility which i believe they may have mentioned. Guys that can play different positions if needed and can man up all over the field. End of the day, they have a lot guys to choose from in order to sure up this secondary.

  28. AwShbucs Says:

    Bonzai that is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. He was getting burnt to a crisp by try out players in rookie mini camp and the bleeding never stopped. MJ Stewart is just flat out sloooooow. He dont have the tools required to cover Tight ends let alone immensely quick slot receivers.

    He is literally another undersized linebacker like Deone Buchannon except hes not even as fast.

  29. unbelievable Says:

    He looked slow af last year, at any position. Not seeing the speed that would enable him to cover quick shifty guys out of the slot.

    But hey wtfdik? It’s not like I said 1000x over it was completely idiotic to draft press corners and force them into a zone scheme for years…

  30. Billy_43 Says:

    Actually almost sounds as if BA had an influence in the draft last year.
    Wouldn’t that be something.

  31. Kyle Says:

    Im smelling a training camp roster cut

  32. BucsBall80 Says:

    Dudes fast enough he just wast reacting to the play fast enough. He dosent have catch up speed. Hes faster than Taylor Rapp. But Rapp is in place because he would diagnosed the play faster. Hes not ready to start from what i seen last year. But it took Rhonda Barber 3 years to get good.

  33. ncbucsfan Says:

    Compare MJ Stewart’s combine numbers to that of the Honey Badger! Numbers don’t lie! I saw a tenacious slot guy at UNC and a timid one last year for the Bucs. I think he will be competing with Mike Edwards to start at that position…..maybe even Jamel Dean. Let the competition begin!

  34. Not there yet Says:

    All this talk is driving us fans crazy. Never seen this much speculation in the off-season with a coaching Change. If they thought so highly of him they would not have drafted 3 corners I don’t care what is being said.

  35. Not there yet Says:

    I hope everyone balls out because I wanna see wins. I hated Benenoch last year but I’m even rooting for him too

  36. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    There is a clear strategy to build players up (except GMC)……this started with Winston….they have done it with many players……JPP, Nassib, Barber, Godwin, Stewart, VH3…….the list goes on.

    Sort of like…..i will love you until I replace you….or I will love you so live up to it.

  37. WhatTheBuc Says:

    MJ is faster (in shorts) then Barber was. He’s too slow to play if he hesitates. I think he will be fine. The staff fell in love with this guy at the senior bowl.

  38. Lord Cornelius Says:

    IMO this freakshow approach is basically to give us 2-3+ options at each secondary position with the hope that if at least 1/2 of these guys pan out we have set our secondary up for the next 4-5 years with studs or solid starters on cheap contracts:


    VHIII/Carlton Davis/Sean Bunting/Jamel Dean – of this group the hope is at least 2 quality outside starting CBs with a much upgraded #3 & #4 in terms of guys who can step up after injury

    MJ Stewart/Mike Edwards- of this they hope one pans out as the hybrid S/nickle CB

    Then beyond that – you have VHIII & Sean Bunting as corners who can also play inside at nickle, plus Justin Evans / Kentrell Brice as other S options.

    Then Justin Evans / Kentrell Brice / Jordan Whitehead as your more pure S

    Just whatever gets the best bodies out there.

    Ideally we get a corner to a probowl this year and feel really good about our #2 and #3 guys. That’d be an insanely massive upgrade to anything we’ve witnessed recently.

    If we can’t get a solid starting rotation out of this then we basically are the worst secondary drafting team in NFL history

  39. FireJasonLicht Says:

    I remember when we drafted Rhonde and in the beginning Rhonde faced the same criticism. To slow, to short, but was physical. I’ll admit I too was just as critical as most. I yelled at the TV when we drafted Rhonde just like I did when we drafted MJ. We all see how that turned out for Rhonde. Hopefully MJ can come close to replicating the should be hall of fame career of Rhonde Barber, who revolutionized the Nickel position and till this day remains the bar for what you look for at the position.

  40. passthebuc Says:

    clear as mud and twice as thick

  41. AwShbucs Says:

    WhatTheBuc… big difference between 40 speed and game speed. Ronde is much faster on film than I’ve ever seen Stewart be.

  42. gotbbucs Says:

    Who’s Rhonde Barber?

  43. Getaclue Says:

    Whitehead would fit too

  44. AlteredEgo Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. Says:

    passthebuc Says:
    May 1st, 2019 at 3:01 pm
    clear as mud and twice as thick


    perhaps the time is right for a poll of despair level…and when you factor in subsciously most understand we could be talking about a new QB this time next year….pretty grim ..although I bought 3 tickets this morning for the KC game…1st game back since Jameis’s first as a Buc….figure I’ll see first hand if the NFL QB of the future looks like Murray and Mahomes

  45. TBUC North Carolina Says:

    Ronde did have a horrible beginning.. I remember Steve “big dog” Deumig nicknaming him “Toast”!! Hopefully M.J. can make the cut!

  46. AlteredEgo Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation. Says:

    Rhondy wasn’t known for his speed…he was known for being in the right time on time

  47. Cobraboy Says:

    The Bucs drafted three DB’s in this draft because they remember how little depth they had last season when injuries took their toll.

    The draft was NOT about “we don’t like the young guys we have”, but about “we need more young guys to go with our other young guys.”

    Hell, the Bucs were bringing guys off the streets last season to play DB. And LB. Even slow-footed Riley Bullough started a bunch of games!

    Depth, people! Good depth! They need it!

  48. Jeffbuc Says:

    I saw enough of Stewart in the nickel in one quarter of football. During the falcons game. When he couldn’t even guard Mohamed Sanu. He kept just blowing by Stewart and Stewart even had the angle on the crossing route the Sanu took to the house. So I thought Sanu just must be fast. Until I looked at his combine numbers 7 years ago. Which he should be even slower now. And he ran a 4.67 forty. Stewart couldn’t stay with one of the slowest receivers in the league. I just hope this new staff has the balls to let people hit the road regardless of draft pedigree. Give him every opportunity to make the team. But if he can’t cut it. Cut him. You can’t teach speed. And Stewart doesn’t have speed or quickness. But if he can be a back up nickel and play ok if he is needed to play than keep him until you can replace him. We all know he won’t be starting he will be the last corner kept if he is retained. I really think these new corners we drafted and the safety are going to really be good. And Davis and heargraves are going to excel. And call me crazy by the end of the year. Are best position on the team will be secondary. We have a bunch of young guys drafted early. That with good coaching can really turn the corner. And make secondary are strongest position for years to come. Hopefully we have a problem that we can’t pay them all and have to trade some. The glass is half full if you can’t tell

  49. OBP Says:

    Joe I know this is off topic but according to Rick Stroud our rookie CB Sean Bunting has changed his last name to Murphy-Bunting, just wanted to make you aware of that for your next article that features him.

  50. TBUC North Carolina Says:

    Dang!! The Glazer boys may not be happy in having to pay for all those letters on the back of his jersey’s!!

  51. AwShbucs Says:

    Am I the only one that’s sick and tired of every single slow undersized corner who cant cover being compared to Ronde Barber?

    Ronde is a future HOF’er and is the exception not the rule. Enough is enough.

  52. TBUC North Carolina Says:

    Yep, I’m 52 now… and slow and undersized (height anyways). I’d just like to get compared to his bank account!!

  53. TBUC North Carolina Says:

    How bout U Joe/tmaxcon ??

  54. Rod Munch Says:

    I hope he’s right.

    I mean I don’t believe it for a second, but I hope he was just a victim of an awful scheme. I mean I really don’t believe that could possibly be it, but who knows.

    Also, for speed, while he looked very very slow, and very very lost on the field, players can play slow if they don’t know or understand the scheme. So perhaps with a new scheme he’ll suddenly play a lot faster. Who knows.

  55. Cobraboy Says:

    When a player does not understand the scheme, like in Smiths, his play will be tentative…and slow.

    From what I have read, Bowles scheme is fairly simple, so players can use more physical skills that being clever, and hence play with more speed.

    I don’t think Bucs fans fully realize how horrendous that Smith defense was.

  56. TexBuc Says:

    For our defense in Todd I trust.

  57. Jerseybuc Says:


    I believe anyone on this site knows exactly how horrific mike Smith was.

    The only one who believed in Smith was Dirk.

  58. Seth b Says:

    @Joe… that’s the interview guy right there. Safeties coach don’t look like he got too many political answers in him. Made me a fan after 10 seconds of talking. A lot of great points.

  59. AwShbucs Says:

    Jerseybuc. I wish that were true but I know for a fact that Realist is still swinging from Smitty’s jock.

  60. Thomas J Bowery Says:

    Everyone of us has a little bit of armchair QB ability but none of us are scouts or coaches. Is Licht one of the best GM’s in the NFL? An emphatic no would be the answer. Lets all conclude that there are more bad teams, coaches, GM’s and Front Offices than good ones. I think that the BUCS have never really been one of the good ones. The NFL is and always will be an exercise in mediocrity. Hopefully some day the Glazers will figure it all out and hire thre right football qualified personnel to do the job. I am certainly no expert when it comes to football but I do know that when you continue to do the same thing over and over again with the same results, you are either stupid, insane or both

  61. TOM Says:

    Oh great. Another player playing out of position. Wow! Keep up the good work Bucs. I’m sorry BA but Licht really sold you a bill of goods. Just like he did with the Glazer’s.

  62. m0j0 Says:

    I think Barber was one of the best nickel corners to ever play the game, and he wasn’t fast by any means. MJ definitely has the tools to play Nickel, but as with anything it takes time to learn the game and anticipate routes, make adjustments without thinking, etc.

  63. Brandon Says:

    Just by 40 yard time alone, MJ Stewart is plenty fast to play S or CB. He was timed in the mid 4.5’s. He stood out at the Senior Bowl that year as well. He did look super slow for us at CB, however, but year two for most players is a different story. Most people choose to forget or never knew that Ronde Barber ran a 4.63 and played all of one game (playoffs against Packers) his rookie season. We never got a chance to see how bad he was as a rookie. Stewart didn’t have that luxury of a redshirt season. Give him a chance. He’s very physical, I assume he’s smart, and he’s got enough speed to play at least inside and as a safety.

    Bob in Valrico Says:
    May 1st, 2019 at 12:26 pm
    I can see M J as a nickel nicke, but doesn,t the free safety have to cover a lot of ground quickly ? Kinda why they after speed with their DB picks in the draft. He does have the build of a safety ,but why not stong safety?


    Smarts are more important in safeties than pure speed. John Lynch played FS for the Broncos after he left the Bucs. Ed Reed was still killing it from his position well into his 30’s despite not having much speed left. Speed is nice, anticipation and knowledge is even better.