National Football League
Bucs' Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is haunted by near-sacks — and resolute on improving
National Football League

Bucs' Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is haunted by near-sacks — and resolute on improving

Updated Jul. 26, 2023 12:58 p.m. ET

Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is haunted by the sacks he's barely missed.

The former first-round pick has finished each of his two NFL seasons with four sacks, but he enters his third year thinking about all the ones that got away —those when he beat an offensive lineman, got into the backfield but failed to bring down the opposing quarterback.

"You're watching the film, and you're like 'Damn. I'm getting there, I'm just not finishing the play,'" Tryon-Shoyinka said after the opening practice of training camp Wednesday morning. "If you just make the ones you miss like that, you're going to have the digits you want. At night, I remember them all the time. I've got them on my phone. I watch them. It keeps me up at night, s--t like that. If you put all this work in, you've got a beautiful move, a million-dollar move, but you've got no sack, there's no point."


Tryon-Shoyinka is motivated to be a different player this season, and there have been subtle hints from Bucs leadership that they want — and need — a higher level of production from someone who's only shown glimpses of what he can do.

"Joe has had some flashes," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said Monday. "He's had some good games. He's shown us why we took him in the first round, but he needs to take a step up. He needs to step it up this year, and we're confident that he will."

Tryon-Shoyinka knows sacks are hard to come by, and he's not alone. Of all the defensive players taken in the 2021 draft, only five have totaled more sacks than his eight, and four of those five were drafted ahead of him, the lone exception being Giants second-rounder Azeez Ojulari, who has 13.5. Those eight sacks match his total from his final year of college football in 2019 at Washington, and he's yet to force a fumble in 37 NFL games.

The Bucs had 45 sacks as a team last year, tied for seventh in the league and only three less than they totaled in their Super Bowl season two years earlier. But defensive tackle Vita Vea led the team with 6.5, and their overall sack production trailed off as the season progressed — 25 sacks in the first eight games before Pro Bowl edge rusher Shaq Barrett was lost to a torn Achilles tendon, then a clear dropoff, with just nine total in the final six games.

Totaling three or more sacks in a game? The Bucs did so eight times in their first 11 games, then not once in the final seven, a disappointing finish for all involved. With Barrett gone, Tryon-Shoyinka had a chance to step up, but he managed just 1.5 sacks in 10 games without Barrett. He matched his rookie year total of four despite playing 283 more snaps than he did his first year.

Sacks aren't the only measure of a pass-rusher's success; Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the league's No. 51 edge rusher, only four spots behind Barrett. He knows the brass ring for a pass-rusher, in the eyes of fans and players, is a single, simple stat.

"I've got to be that dude to get him on the ground," he said. "If I'm there, I've got to get him on the ground. The sack is the stat you always want. At the end of the year, it's 'What did I have? Blah, blah, blah.'"

The 6-foot-5, 259-pound edge rusher is still only 24, and while he isn't as old as Barrett or Anthony Nelson, he sees younger pass-rushers like 2023 draft picks Yaya Diaby and Jose Ramirez and is reminded he is someone they look up to for answers.

"I feel like I just got here to Tampa," he said, feeling the Florida heat even with a 90-minute practice that ended at 10 a.m. before the sun can really set in. "I'm still sweating like it's my rookie year."

He enters this season with optimism, remembering that winning at the line of scrimmage is important, but only if he knows what's ahead of him. He's working on his situational awareness — where is the quarterback likely to be, and how quickly will he get rid of the ball? He knows how close he's come to so many sacks that improving a fraction of a second here and there is all he needs.

"For me, Joe has to finish at the top of the rush," coach Todd Bowles said. "He beats linemen, but he either slips down or falls off the quarterback. He's launching too early and not running through the quarterback. He left a lot of sacks out there last year, not that he didn't get back there, but finishing at the top of the rush is just as important as beating the guy at the line of scrimmage. Me and Joe have talked about this and he understands it and he's working toward that."

Having Barrett back healthy will be a boost for the Bucs' pass rush, and they'll continue to get pressure both from inside and from blitzing linebackers like Devin White. But for Tryon-Shoyinka, there's a sense of urgency to make plays himself at a level he hasn't in his first two years, but he knows those sacks aren't far from his grasp.

"I feel like the confidence is there," he said. ""I'm getting more wins, and as that becomes more consistent, I'll be in the right position. It's going to be a good year. I believe in my abilities. Now it's time to just let it loose."

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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