Bigger Load, Bigger Impact

June 19th, 2023

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At 6-foot-4 and pushing 350 pounds, Vita Vea isn’t easy to overlook.

But it happens.

Tampa Bay’s massive nose tackle remains a force of nature, yet there’s room for growth. Coming off a lucrative 4-year contract extension, Vea posted a career-high and team-leading 6 1/2 sacks last year while missing three games with a calf injury.

Despite the production, Vea failed to receive a single All-Pro vote from the Associated Press 50-member panel. He was also shut out from the Pro Bowl team after making it the year before.

While Buc coaches appreciate Vea’s impact, they’re looking for more — starting with durability.

The 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Vea has missed 18 games in five seasons. A fractured ankle limited him to only five regular-season games in 2020, but he returned to play two postseason matchups during the championship run.

“Vita has emerged as one of our league’s most disruptive interior defensive linemen due to a unique skill set that combines strength and superior athleticism,” says Jason Licht. “Vita’s abilities as both a premier run stuffer and pass rusher are rare and his presence on the defensive front has played a major role in our ability to consistently rank among the league leaders in rush defense since his arrival.”

But Todd Bowles expects better from a run defense that allowed an average of 4.5 yards per carry in 2022, well off the 3.6 standard set only two years earlier during the championship season. The departure of Ndamukong Suh was a factor in the dropoff and now Vea is busy serving as a mentor for top draft choice Calijah Kancey.

“Vita’s doing a great job of teaching me the game,” Kancey says. “He’s going to draw a lot of attention, which will help me out.”

Kancey could also help Vea out with a quick first step off the ball that may prompt offensive coordinators around the league to adjust their blocking patterns against Vea. If Kancey can regularly disrupt plays in the backfield, Vea may not have to face double teams on every snap.

Speaking of snaps, Vea was on the field for only 59 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps last season. While they are careful to monitor Vea’s workload, Buc coaches realize the benefit of having him on the field.

Opposing coaches have noticed, too.

“He’s one of the best players in this league,” says Sean McVay, who coaches Aaron Donald in Los Angeles. “He’s such a large individual that has such good ability, such good movement. He’s a real problem.”

Tampa Bay’s defense was stout for much of last season, but a plodding attack was too much to overcome. Buc defenders found themselves worn down physically and mentally by the grind of holding up the entire team.

The playoff game against Dallas was humiliating — on both sides of the ball.

Bowles is counting on a healthy Vea to lead the way up front. He’s the veteran presence now, following the departures of Will Gholston and Akiem Hicks. Bowles craves more takeaways and Vea, who has forced only one fumble in 64 games, can do more in that regard.

“Vita plays a very pivotal role in our defense,” Licht says. “When he’s in there, a lot of things happen for not just him but everybody else around him.”

14 Responses to “Bigger Load, Bigger Impact”

  1. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    The Big Guy needs some help….hopefully, getting younger will do it…..we need production from Gaines, Kancey & Hall….especially in the run game.

    We’ll miss Gholston & Nacho…but I don’t think Hicks so much

  2. TampaBayBucsFanSince1976 Says:

    Suh departed or was foolishly cast aside by a GM that thought he was the smartest guy in the room when he signed Hicks who had a history of pedal injuries in favor of a guy like Suh who is a HOF’er and never misses a game. Vea went to the ProBowl when he had Suh next to him and that was a big part of his season that year working in tandem with Suh. Sign Suh as a player coach for the Dline.

  3. Joe Says:

    We’ll miss Gholston & Nacho…but I don’t think Hicks so much

    FYI, Bucs had a winning record with both Hicks and Vea on the field in the same games.

  4. Buc1987 Says:

    I don’t see Kancey learning much from a player that only plays 60% of the time.

    We’ll see!

  5. TampaBayBucsFanSince1976 Says:

    And the Bucs were undefeated in games where they rushed for more than 100 yards , yes ALL 3.

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    ‘FYI, Bucs had a winning record with both Hicks and Vea on the field in the same games.’

    I think many underestimate Hicks’ value to our defense Joe. Losing Hicks for Games 3-8 impacted our defense big-time IMO. Bucs were 7-4 on the season with Hicks in there, but only 1-5 without him in the lineup. Nacho got a LOT more def snaps last year than he’d ever had, but apparently his 2 sacks & 3 QB Hits didn’t impress the Bucs enough for them to re-sign him.

  7. TampaBayBucsFanSince1976 Says:

    i believe people also greatly underestimate how easy it would have been for the GM to swallow his pride and sign Suh immediately after the oft injured Hicks went down.

  8. Brandon Says:

    Turnovers come when offenses are forced to catch up. That wasn’t happening when our own offense was impotent and 25th in scoring. We rarely played with the lead and had far fewer opportunities. If we are even average on offense this season, the D will be markedly improved.

  9. Bucnjim Says:

    Just out of curiosity what percentage of plays is Aaron Donald on the field for? If you are only a 50% contributor it’s easy to be overlooked even when you are talented.

  10. Fred McNeil Says:

    Hicks didn’t get many sacks, but the run defense was much better with him in there.

  11. Voice of Truth Says:

    I am very concerned about the run D. Vea has proven he can’t play more than 60% of the snaps

    My worry is we only have Vea and Gaines with any size – we are going to either get a tackle for loss or give up a 20 yard gain it seems

    Look for AW3 to have many td saving tackles on breakaway runs

    We built a fast, small D very quickly

  12. BillyBucco Says:

    What you give up is size for speed.
    If Kancey and Gaines can still stop the run, then we got better.
    Tired of watching SUH stand there and not rush.
    You saw the last play against the Rams and so did I.
    Kancey would have planted Stafford on his ass in that amount of time.
    When you are shorter in the interior it actually helps the rush. It helps you split double teams. You can get skinny between the Tackle and guard and center and guard. The problem is you typically get pushed around in the run game.
    Kancey is the exception to the rule. He turns around and causes havoc on QB scrambles and sometimes stops runs before the LOS, you know tackle for LOSS.
    So we stopped the run with Suh, thats great, but what did we gain?
    I’m excited to see this lineup, because we need a Pass Rush.
    I’m not sure we NEED to stop the run.
    Look at what teams did when stopped the run.
    They passed for 400 on us, because there was no Pass Rush.
    Run blitzes killed us when it was play action.
    You have to have a rush with 4 guys, not 5 or 6 even.

  13. Rod Munch Says:

    For Vita to be an all-pro player, he needs to be more than a part-time player. I don’t care if he can one arm tackle a RB on 1st and 10 from the opponents 20 on the 1st play in the 2nd quarter, I care about what he does in the redzone and in crunch time, and too often, he’s just sitting on the sideline because he’s playing too heavy. Also the 350lb number is from the combine, and there’s no way he’s not pushing 380lb or more than that by now. He needs to get down to a Suh sized 330lb so he has the stamina to be on the field – THEN we can talk about him as an all-pro.

  14. garro Says:

    Relying on Vea alone to make the defensive difference proved too much for him. Not surprising really.
    Nothing from Hall, Suh, and JPP gone, Shaq injured, JTS showed very little, Hicks was very good while he was healthy. Gholston was still solid vs the run. Depth guys were just that. Vea and Gholston was the best we could consistently offer last year. And Vea just can’t go much more than 55% of snaps and remain 100%. People Including Bowles want more but this is a big and powerful man. Power lifters will understand that with power comes a loss of endurance.