Secondary Battles Take the Forefront
It’s the way every Bruce Arians team is constructed: a fast, attacking, young defense.
On a reloading Buccaneers team equipped with a potent offense, an underperforming defense stands out on a unit with playoff aspirations.
The predicament with the Buccaneers defense is there’s no clear-cut leader. With a young squad and some key players who have yet to prove themselves, the way this defense takes shape for the 2019 campaign will likely determine how the season unfolds.
With no starting jobs safe, there are expected to be position battles at safety opposite Justin Evans, as well at slot cornerback.
With a new one gap 3-4 hybrid defensive scheme, it’ll be up to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to find the right fit to retool the Buccaneers lackluster defense.
Finding an impact player next to former 2nd round draft pick Justin Evans is a must for this coaching staff this offseason.
Prior to the draft, it appears the battle for that spot will be between incumbent Jordan Whitehead and 2nd round pick MJ Stewart, who is transitioning from CB to S.
Whitehead is an undersized safety who was the #1 high school prospect in the nation, ranked higher than the notable name of Saquon Barkley. A day 3 selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Whitehead was forced into action after the season-ending injury of Chris Conte. The rookie was serviceable, recording 76 combined tackles and 0 interceptions. Tampa Bay would like to add more playmaking next to Evans, and with Whitehead’s lack of turnovers, that was an aspect of the game the Pitt product has not yet provided thus far.
MJ Stewart, the team’s slot cornerback for most of the 2018 season, is making the transition to safety after underperforming at the nickel position.
Stewart, who has experience at both cornerback and safety, is looking to make a bigger impact in his sophomore campaign in a new defense. The North Carolina product totaled 33 combined tackles, along with 3 passes defensed, and 0 interceptions.
Bruce Arians and the Bucs believe moving MJ to safety will squeeze the most production out of an already talented player.
MJ Stewart and Jordan Whitehead will compete in what should be a heated showdown for an important position on the defense. Whoever wins the position will go a long way into molding this Buccaneers defense.
Cornerback is one of the youngest and inexperienced position groups for the Buccaneers. With Ryan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves being the “veterans” in the room, their play on the field needs to reflect that status. How this group performs in 2019 will go a long way in determining how the season unfolds.
The big question mark of this unit will be who holds down the slot cornerback position, with MJ Stewart moving to safety.
Bruce Arians recently stated at the NFL Owners meeting that he’d rather find a good slot corner than moving VH3 inside and finding an outside cornerback. That will be this staff’s job this offseason, whether that be in-house or through the upcoming NFL Draft.
Whoever wins the battle will solidify a cornerback unit that’s looking to make big strides this upcoming season.
As the positional battles unfold, who will emerge victorious will go a long way in shaping the Buccaneers season. In a high stakes season for this franchise, getting the most out of this roster is exactly what must be done; that difficult task will be up to Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles.
The stakes have never been higher.