Turning Heads, Flipping The Depth Chart

June 13th, 2024

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The close of mandatory minicamp finds the Bucs in a giddy mood. The coaching staff and front office are thrilled to celebrate a rookie Sweet Sixteen, well before the start of training camp.

He hasn’t posted his first pro tackle or initial pass breakup in the NFL, but Tykee Smith has quickly won over a lot of hearts and minds at One Buc Place. The 16th defensive back taken off the board, Smith has the look of a major contributor from the start.

Bucs rookie Tykee Smith.

It’s an understatement to say the Bucs like Smith’s attributes and intangibles. They can’t say enough about this 23-year-old riser out of Georgia.

Although Smith is being cross-trained at safety and nickel back, his immediate future appears set.

He’s going to compete for the slot corner job — and you’d be a fool to bet against him.

“I’m out here trying to showcase how I can help this defense,” Smith told me this week. “We had a similar defensive system at Georgia, so I’m learning real fast.”

Tampa Bay coaches are stunned by Smith’s miniscule learning curve. He makes up for his undersized frame with football intelligence and grasp of fundamentals. When camp opens, he’ll battle against Christian Izien, an undrafted free agent who played 64 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps as a rookie in 2023.

On paper, this appears to be an open competition. In reality, it’s essentially Smith’s job to lose, kind of like last year’s Mayfield-Trask competition.

Assistant GM John Spytek says Smith can do it all.

“We ask a lot of our DB’s here,” says assistant GM John Spytek. “I think a lot of NFL teams do. It’s a really hard position to play. But in particular here, we stress them mentally and we stress them physically with the amount we blitz. They have to be resilient and want to make plays on the ball when they have a chance. From that aspect, Tykee does all those things at a really high level.”

Safeties coach Nick Rapone and others will work Smith hard this summer and Smith is looking forward to learning the nuances of the job from Rondé Barber, the Hall of Famer who defined the nickel position with his unmatched preparation and toughness.

“You’ve got to be real versatile to play that position,” Smith says. “You’ve got to be able to cover the slot receivers and set the edge. You’ve got to be cerebral … able to think fast.”

Former NFL safety Todd Bowles knows a keeper at the position when he sees one. He is a master at disguising Tampa Bay’s true intentions on defense once the ball is snapped, ordering up pass rushers from everywhere.

Smith checks that box, too.

“I did a good amount of blitzing at Georgia,” he says. “It’s a little different terminology here, but what I’m asked to do at nickel, I was doing at Georgia.”

By drafting Smith and bringing back Jordan Whitehead, the Bucs have added juice to a secondary that was squeezed too often last fall. With the playoff game at Ford Field in the balance, Lions quarterback Jared Goff carved the Bucs up in the fourth quarter.

Smith is thankful for the way teammates have embraced him since the Bucs chose him with the 89th overall pick. He will have every opportunity to join former third-round selections like Chris Godwin, Rachaad White and YaYa Diaby in making an immediate impact.

“I know nothing’s given out here,” Smith says. “I’m not looking for anything to be handed to me. I’m grateful for the chance to learn from these guys.”

Smith has clearly turned heads at One Buc Place. Now he’s looking to flip the depth chart and win the nickel job, giving Bowles more options to stymie offenses.

He’s a young man with a long way to go before making his mark as a pro. But if first impressions count, Tykee Smith and his well-memorized playbook are on the brink of a breakthrough.

18 Responses to “Turning Heads, Flipping The Depth Chart”

  1. infomeplease Says:

    Sounds good to me. Adding another playmaker will help get the D off the field on 3rd and 4th downs!!

  2. Fred McNeil Says:

    Izien is pretty good. If this kid is even better that’s great news. Our secondary should be the most improved part of the team. ILB is the only position that truly worries me.

  3. Cdog76 Says:

    I’m not impressed by any player until the pads come on and they face nfl competition.

  4. Greg Says:

    Georgia is another pro ready program.

  5. heyjude Says:

    Great information, thank you!

    Love hearing that Smith is going to learn the nuances from Ronde Barber. Some have been commenting for awhile that Ronde should have a mini-camp for the players. Looking forward to seeing how Tykee does. Sounds great so far!

  6. Rod Munch Says:

    Would be great if he can step in and play day 1, that would be another huge win for the front office.

    We’ll see how it goes, but that’s good to hear they’re liking what they’re seeing so far.

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    Coach Bowles is definitely drooling over the variety of looks he can give with Winfield, Whitehead and Smith all being somewhat interchangeable and on the field together 75% of the time….

  8. DoooshLaRue Says:

    Definitely good news!
    He sounds like a winner.

  9. JimBobBuc Says:

    Tykee may not be as tall as Zyon, but he’s the same size as Win and Whitehead, and ran very similar 40’s (4.46).

    I hope we can figure out how to stop TE’s. I just saw Bucs gave up the most receptions and yards against TE’s.

  10. SlyPirate Says:

    Tykee is going to be disruptive. He’s going to be difference maker. He’s AWJ v2. He’s just got that “it” factor. I’m excited for this guy.

    ALSO …

    Bucky Irving is dedicating his offseason to studying the offense. Say what you will, he’s a dedicated young man.

  11. Dave Pear Says:

    Thanks Sage, great take.

  12. B Says:

    I’m getting nervous the pass rush we never get is now being promised from db’s

  13. garro Says:

    Hope he sits down with Ronde for a few weeks during the break for some intense film study. Invite some friends as well. 🙂

    Good stuff Ira!

    Go Bucs!

  14. go dawgs Says:

    Obviously a Ga fan here so im sure my take is slanted. Smith always made plays and seemed to come up big for Georgia with turnovers and sacks at key moments. He was one of the best players on the defense last year for sure. Maybe a little under the radar in Tampa but hoping for big things from this guy.

  15. BA’s Red Pen Says:

    Hell yeah! LFG

  16. Proudbucsfan Says:

    I don’t think he will beat out Izien for the nickel but a committee approach at the position could be what the defense needs.

  17. SenileSenior Says:

    Good stuff. Sounds like one more “steal” from our latest draft.

    Go Bucs!

    Hope you are doing well, sage.

  18. Jake been there since the beginning Says:

    Seems pretty good, by him knowing a little about what Bowles does and is ready, Great job and I think we have a team. Britt did a good/great job last season. Let’s Go Bucs!!!!