Deep Trouble?

June 29th, 2020

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Assuming there’s an NFL season this fall, the depth of the Buccaneers is sure to be tested in novel ways.

There’s no masking the fact that COVID-19 looms as a potential game-changer in terms of keeping key players healthy and available each and every week. The threat of infection is real, supplementing the usual knee, ankle, shoulder and groin injuries that keep NFL trainers busy.

It’s naive to think the Bucs won’t be affected in some way by the coronavirus — no matter how diligent they are about adhering to the league’s stringent protocols.

Having skilled backups on your depth chart figures to be more important than ever and when it comes to the defensive front, Tampa Bay’s depth is a concern.

Depth has relocated from the D-line to other position groups, writes Ira Kaufman.

Let’s not forget that Carl Nassib (Raiders) and Beau Allen (Patriots) bolted in free agency. Nassib averaged 45 snaps per game last year and his hustle proved contagious for the NFL’s No. 1 run defense. And although Allen was on the field for only 16 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps, his physicality made him an offseason target for Bill Belichick, who knows a thing or two about defensive prowess.

Here’s what’s left up front — Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Patrick O’Connor, Jeremiah Ledbetter and rookie Khalil Davis.

The Fearsome Foursome this is not.

Suh is 33, still effective but certainly not in his NFL prime. Vea is good enough to be a Pro Bowler if he stays healthy, but he just had hand surgery that could sideline him for at least part of training camp. Gholston is a capable run-stuffer who averages one sack every nine games.

Those are your headliners. Behind them are a collection of young linemen who have proven little at the pro level.

Surgery for Vita Vea and Jason Pierre-Paul further clouds the depth picture, writes Ira Kaufman.

O’Connor and Ledbetter have never started an NFL game. Nuñez-Roches has zero starts in his two years with the Bucs. Davis is a sixth-round pick expected to step into Allen’s cleats as a rotational player inside.

The Bucs were very fortunate up front last season in terms of participation. Suh, Vea and Gholston each played all 16 games.

Can Todd Bowles really expect the same cohesion in 2020?

It’s rare to get 16 games out of your starters … and that’s without the threat of COVID-19 spreading to One Buc Place.

There’s no getting around it, the Bucs are thin up front. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone because the franchise’s recent draft history suggests the defensive line hasn’t been much of a priority, except for free agency.

Since 2012, the Bucs have used only two premium picks on defensive linemen. Noah Spence was a washout while Vea looks like a cornerstone.

In the same span, covering the past nine drafts, the Panthers have chosen eight defensive linemen within the first three rounds. The Saints and Falcons have spent four premium picks apiece since 2012 to address the D-line.

That’s a major discrepancy of resources within the NFC South. Fortunately for Tampa Bay fans, many of those 16 draft picks by Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans have proven to be mistakes.

That shouldn’t obscure the very real depth issues nagging the Bucs a month before training camp opens. What if Vea’s hand surgery keeps him out of contact drills for most of August? We saw how much a strained calf suffered early in 2018 camp undermined his rookie season.

The Bucs would be wise to add a veteran defensive lineman for depth purposes before taking on Drew Brees in the season opener.

John Lynch has it right — you can never have enough quality beef up front.

Maybe Tampa Bay’s wheel of fortune will continue. Perhaps Vea, Suh and Gholston won’t miss a single game between them once again. But that’s a dangerous game to play, especially with coronavirus cases sharply on the rise in the Sunshine State.

Any player who tests positive is bound to miss a minimum of two weeks, and that’s if all goes well.

If the 2020 NFL season indeed proves to be a war of attrition, the Bucs may not have enough ammunition in the trenches.

Enjoy Mike Alstott’s interview earlier this month on the Ira Kaufman Podcast.

Bill Currie Ford
5815 N. Dale Mabry Hwy.
Tampa, FL 33614

Ira Kaufman’s column is presented by Bill Currie Ford, where stunning offers and 0% interest rates await you. Click on Ira to visit GM Sean Sullivan will help you personally in every way he can.

18 Responses to “Deep Trouble?”

  1. mark2001 Says:

    True Ira…and as I said a couple weeks ago, the team that wins it all, assuming we complete a season, will likely be the team that stays the healthiest, or is afflicted in the most impactful positions at the least costly times. Kind of adds a twist of chance to the entire season.

  2. Buczilla Says:

    Good article Ira and I agree.

  3. yeah Says:

    Teams full of talent in the trenches, consistently make it to the playoffs and Superbowl….. Bucs don’t have that….. Or do they??

  4. stpetebucsfan Says:


  5. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Sure could have put some of that $10 mil on Gronk to good use…..let’s hope he will be worth it. Perhaps we can squeeze enough to acquire one decent backup Dlineman before the season starts.

    The NFL will probably expand rosters due to the sickness….but expansion with whom?

  6. rriddler Says:

    Anthony Nelson

  7. ZZbuc Says:

    Agree Uncle Ira, but we should be concerned on evry spot of the roster if covid gets in….what about QB? OL, Safety????

  8. Joe in Michigan Says:

    Maybe Anthony Nelson…If he doesn’t have the bend needed, the Bucs can fatten him up and he can be a DE instead of OLB. I’d like to see what the Bucs have in Quinton Bell, Cam Gill, and/or Michael Divinity. There could be a good pass rusher among them.

  9. SufferingSince76 Says:

    Thanks for peeing on my charcoal, Ira.

  10. Dewey Selmon Says:

    We better have DB depth after using a zillion picks on them.

  11. Mike Says:

    I think we could assume that all teams will have these kinds of problems.

  12. Sport Says:

    The NFL needs to expand the rosters this year. Heck, we played a year with scrubs, we can figure this out too. 😷

    Also, What Mike said. 🤞

    In BA I Trust!

  13. Hodad Says:

    Ira, no team has great depth at every position. I’m sick of these type articles that talk about lack of depth. Take Denver with Shaq for example. Didn’t their depth at LB take a hit when he left as a FA? Ira, you’re picking low fruit with this take. No team fields 53 all pros.

  14. Mike Johnson Says:

    Our Bucs were not smart about the upcoming season. We panicked. Spent 50 mi; 60 mil on 2 has been’s. We get 2 yrs if that, out of one guy and one about 10 games if we lucky out of the other. All we had to do was sign Jameis to a one yr prove it contract while moving up in the 1st rd and selecting his replacement. And we would have had lotsa cash to spend on that line..on both sides. The braintrust of this franchise is flawed. Bu then again it has been since old man Glazer died.

  15. BringBucsBack Says:

    Anyone Winfield is a Buc now and I hope he is an HOFer. However, AJ Espensa was still on the board when we took Winfield. I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us.

  16. BringBucsBack Says:


  17. unbelievable Says:

    Ira you just perfectly highlighted what many of us have been screaming for years and years and years:

    BUILD THE DAMN TRENCHES!!! (On both sides of the ball)

    Instead we drafted 37 slot corners….

  18. William Berry Says:

    Did JPP go somewhere?