National Football League
Bucs happy to have Jordan Whitehead back, fine with being underdogs
National Football League

Bucs happy to have Jordan Whitehead back, fine with being underdogs

Published Mar. 26, 2024 3:29 p.m. ET

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bucs coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht both spoke with reporters at the NFL meetings on Tuesday, touching on a wide variety of topics. Much of the headlines for the Bucs in the past few weeks has focused on the team's success in keeping their own best free agents, but this was a chance for them to speak about newcomers and their likely roles.

Ten things we learned Tuesday ...

1. Jordan Whitehead made a welcome return

A starter on the Bucs' Super Bowl team in 2020, safety Jordan Whitehead was one of the few key players from that team to get away, spending the past two years with the Jets. Tampa Bay brought him back on a two-year, $9 million deal, and he'll go right back to starting opposite Antoine Winfield and bringing a physical presence to the secondary.


"It kind of seemed like since the day we let him out of the building that we were counting down the minutes until he came back," Licht said. "When he came back, there wasn't a person in the building that wasn't smiling."

Bowles said Whitehead will improve on-field communication, working especially well with Lavonte David before plays and get the defense set correctly.

"I'm happy to have him back," Bowles said. "The whole team's happy to have him back in the fold. I just look forward, with the experience he's gotten in New York, to help us get better on the back end."

2. Carlton Davis hurt himself with injuries

It made sense that part of the reason the Bucs traded Davis to the Lions (with two sixth-round picks) for a third-round pick was that the cornerback was consistently limited by injuries, missing 16 games over the past three seasons. They're excited about getting to play third-year pro Zyon McCollum more as well, but Licht wasn't even subtle in referencing the injuries.

"We felt like it was an opportunity for us to get a really good pick and to add some youth," Licht said. "We wish Carlton the best. He's a good player when he's out there on the field."

The Bucs now have two third-round picks, and Licht referenced the possibility of using one of them to move up higher in the draft to get the right prospect, something he's done in the past with tackle Tristan Wirfs and other players.

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3. Open competition for left guard job

The Bucs let Aaron Stinnie sign with the Giants and didn't re-sign veteran Matt Feiler, so their two starting left guards from 2023 won't be back, setting up a competition in training camp.

The first outsider to join the fray was Giants offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, a versatile player who could challenge Robert Hainsey for the starting center job as well as at left guard. The Bucs also signed Eagles backup Sua Opeta, who is more specifically a guard.

"I really like both guys," Bowles said of Bredeson and Opeta. "Bredeson from the Giants, he's played all along the offensive line, but if you leave him in the same place, he was a very good player. The one we got from Philly is a huge size guy, started in some ballgames. Losing [backup Nick] Leverett and Stinnie, obviously we get some guys that are fighting for a starting spot. Doesn't mean we won't add any, but those guys we really like."

The Bucs could certainly use a high draft pick, potentially even their first-round pick at No. 26, on an interior lineman. Duke's Graham Barton and Oregon's Jackson Powers-Johnson are frequently paired with the Bucs in mock drafts with their top pick.

4. Bowles not concerned about hip-drop tackle ruling

The NFL has added rules to prohibit players from using the hip-drop tackle, which can lead to injuries. Though Bowles is a defensive-minded coach, he isn't worried about having to change how the Bucs teach players as a result.

"We don't teach it, we don't preach it and we don't do it, so it's really not a big deal for us," Bowles said. "If it does happen, it's definitely not going to be intentional. It just makes you more aware. We've been aware. We don't tackle that way, we don't teach it that way, so it's not going to change for us."

5. Underdogs again? Not a problem for Bucs

The Falcons are considered the betting favorite to win the NFC South by oddsmakers, even though the Bucs have won the NFC South three years in a row, but Tampa Bay will gladly take a familiar motivation as the Bucs seek another title.

"That's fine with me," Licht said. "I like being the underdog. This team likes being the underdog. I like keeping receipts."

Said Bowles: "When you talk about respect, Aretha Franklin is probably the only one that gets that. Everybody else, you just go with the flow. We're not trying to win the offseason. We're trying to win the season. Our focus will be the same. It fuels a lot of us. It fuels a lot of the players."

6. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka set up for versatile role

The former first-round pick won't have his fifth-year option exercised for 2025, but that doesn't mean he can't play a key role as a versatile piece in the Bucs' defensive front. He had a career-best five sacks in 2023 after getting four in each of his first two seasons, and while he fell out of a starting role with YaYa Diaby's emergence, Bowles said they'll use Tryon-Shoyinka creatively.

"He's more of a Joker type player for us to move around and do different things," Bowles said. "Joe can move all along the line of scrimmage and help us in a lot of things. He's our linebacker, he's our defensive end, he's our three-tech, he's our part-time nickel, he's our part-time inside backer. He can come from a lot of areas, so he has a lot of jobs. He's one of those chess pieces."

7. With Devin White gone, K.J. Britt leads competition

The Bucs allowed former Pro Bowl linebacker Devin White to leave and sign with the Eagles, and fourth-year pro K.J. Britt stepped up in the playoffs as a starter and will be part of the competition to start next to Lavonte David. They'll also look at second-year pro SirVocea Dennis, who played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie.

Britt doesn't have the same jaw-dropping speed that White has, but Bowles said he finds other ways to make plays on the field.

"We're not running the 40," Bowles said. "He's a football player. You've got to get around him to use your speed. K.J., what he lacks in two steps in the speed department, he makes up for being in the right place and understanding the game. You can play fast and not be fast, and you can be fast and not play fast. K.J. plays fast, so we're comfortable with that."

8. Justin Peelle is the new tight ends coach

Bowles made one late change to his coaching staff last week, adding longtime NFL tight ends coach Justin Peelle to his staff. John Van Dam, who was in that role last year, is now a passing game assistant. Peelle played a decade in the NFL and has coached the position with the Eagles and Falcons, and Bowles said he likes the fundamentals he'll bring to the job.

"He's more of a technician, to help those guys especially in the blocking aspect of it, and move Van Dam over into more of a passing thing, which was more his thing when he came out from being a quarterback. I think it really helps us and helps those guys from a technique standpoint, and hopefully that will help us in the run game as well with better blocking."

9. Edge rusher remains a need with Shaq Barrett gone

A year ago, the Bucs were thrilled with their depth at outside linebacker, though they're now missing a starter with veteran Shaq Barrett getting released and signing with the Dolphins. That could mean others stepping up with Yaya Diaby returning as a starter in his second year, but it also could mean signing a veteran or using a high draft pick on the position.

"You're always looking for pass rushers, always looking to upgrade," Licht said. "It doesn't matter if you have two All-Pros there, you're still looking for depth there."

The Bucs have Diaby, Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson back, and they're intrigued by second-year pros Markees Watts and Jose Ramirez. Watts played only sparingly last year and Ramirez spent the year on the practice squad, but they're shown promise.

"We all are really excited about Markees, Jose. Anthony obviously has been a steady force there," Licht said. "Some of those young guys were giving our tackles a lot of trouble during the week last year. They talked to me about it all the time. Tristan and Luke [Goedeke] were like, 'This Jose is going to be something else.' I'm excited to see him in camp this year. Last year he was hurt, so it will be fun to watch him."

10. Two new corners will add depth inside and out

In addition to Whitehead, the Bucs have signed two veteran corners in Bryce Hall (Jets) and Tavierre Thomas (Texans), adding depth with Davis traded away. Hall is primarily an outside corner and Thomas primarily a nickel, but both could cross-train at the opposite position. Hall is likely the third outside corner behind McCollum and Jamel Dean, while Thomas will compete with Christian Izien and others for the nickel job in training camp.

"Bryce Hall's a very good football player. He's an outside corner, highly intelligent, very long, just like Zyon and Dean," Bowles said. "He plays great man-to-man, has a good feel for zone. Tavierre plays nickel as well as special teams. He's a fierce tackler, a tough competitor, can play some safety for us as well. He's a good utility piece, a chess piece moving forward."

Greg Auman is FOX Sports' NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.


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