Another Player In The Playmaker Search

September 2nd, 2020

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Mike Edwards is trying to wrap his arms around his biggest weakness.


Ira Kaufman goes inside Mike Edwards’ development

That sounds rather bizarre for a second-year safety who stood out for Kentucky as a tackling machine. When the Bucs drafted Edwards in the third round, safeties coach Nick Rapone praised his skills and aggression in run support.

“Mike is exactly what we look for,” Rapone said at the time. “First of all, he’s physical. Second of all, he can blitz. Third of all, he can cover and to the best of our knowledge, he’s cerebral.”

A year later, Edwards remains a work in progress.

Second-round pick Antoine Winfield Jr. has been added to a crowded safety room while Jordan Whitehead returns as the thumper of the secondary, and Andrew Adams made 11 starts last year. So where exactly does Edwards fit in?

Right in the middle of the action.

Edwards announced his arrival as a more polished player during Tampa Bay’s first full-speed practice last month, posting the first interception off Tom Brady. Edwards stepped in front of a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski, wrecking a connection between a pair of first-ballot Hall of Famers.

If Edwards continues his growth spurt, Rapone and Todd Bowles could find themselves with another reliable weapon to challenge Drew Brees and company in the season opener.

Edwards isn’t one to offer excuses. He knows he missed too many tackles in 2019 and was often caught out of position in coverage.

“I wouldn’t say I lost my confidence,” Edwards says of his rocky rookie season. “It was more not playing as fast as I could, worried about where I’ll line up instead of playing football. Now, I’ve been playing freely out there.”

Top Skill

Bruce Arians continues to use the word “ballhawk” to describe Edwards while also noting his tackling issues. Tampa Bay safeties combined for only two interceptions last season and Bowles is counting on Winfield and Edwards to provide more takeaways.

“There’s maturation there,” Rapone said on Wednesday. “Mike’s gotten more cerebral, Mike understands defense. In this league, you become a good player when you truly understand what the offense is trying to do. That’s the jump these kids have to make.”

Bucs safeties coach Nick Rapone

Tampa Bay safeties face an early challenge in the Superdome, where the loaded Saints appear poised to win a fourth consecutive division crown. Tight end Jared Cook caught nine TD passes last season and Brees is masterful at looking off defensive backs before delivering the ball on time.

Winfield figures to go through some of the same growing pains Edwards experienced as a rookie, absorbing a complex playbook that places heavy responsibility on the back end.

“The safeties in Todd’s defense basically run the defense,” Rapone says.

Proving Ground

It’s a young safety group, striving to prove they can meet the challenge. No one has more to prove than Edwards, who led SEC defensive backs with 100 tackles in 2016. That’s impressive, but Buc fans want to see him bring down Alvin Kamara in the open field.

“Mike has grown a lot,” Whitehead says. “It’s about picking up the playbook and learning how to be a pro. He gets his hands on the ball and he makes a lot of plays.”

Picking off Brady, even if it’s only a practice theft at One Buc Place in August, has to be a confidence booster for Edwards, who didn’t like his rookie performance. The selection of Winfield in Round 2 was a strong indication Tampa Bay’s coaching staff remains unconvinced Edwards is a keeper.

While Edwards figures to be one of four safeties on the final 53-man roster, the extent of his role is unclear. His lone sack of the season was against Taysom Hill of New Orleans, coming off the right edge with speed, but his true ticket to expanded playing time will be a better understanding of the Bowles system.

“We’re trying to turn those pass deflections into interceptions,” Edwards says. “I feel like we need to make more plays on the back end.”

Close your eyes and you can hear the response from Buc Nation in unison.

Bill Currie Ford
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Tampa, FL 33614

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4 Responses to “Another Player In The Playmaker Search”

  1. Sarasota Garey Says:

    And still no Justin Evans smh. Would Tampa put him on IR for one more season?

  2. BucBrady Says:

    Reading about Edward’s pick of Brady–it came to me–y’know the one thing I don’t miss from the past seasons at all? Explanations covering for why Jameis was throwing so many picks in practice. And I was/am a JW fan–he was great to the TB community.

    BUT–if I had to hear one more “he’s just testing out the defense to see how far he can go,” or “well, he’s making more careless throws because it’s just a practice” i thought my head would explode. And that’s not a knock on the Joes–that was more fan based.

    It’s been great to lose that garbage. Now go win, Bucs!!

  3. Joe Says:

    And still no Justin Evans smh. Would Tampa put him on IR for one more season?

    Guess the Bucs could just to be nice guys about it. This is the final year of his rookie contract.

  4. JimbobBucsFan Says:

    If the Bucs really are “all in” for a Super Bowl run this season then they will no longer have the luxury of carrying Evans and Cichy. It will probably be no more Mr. Nice Guy.