The weakest point on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense last year was probably the safety position, though pass-rush specialists were sorely lacking too. The team didn’t quite solve that: they signed J.J. Wilcox and drafted Justin Evans, but it’s unclear whether they can start, or even whether they really represent upgrades.
Still, head coach Dirk Koetter seems somewhat satisfied with his two new safeties, and has started rotating them in with starters (for now) Keith Tandy and Chris Conte. Here’s what he said today:
"The last two days we've started rotating J.J. [Wilcox] and Justin [Evans] in so they're not always playing together. I think that's been good to work the different combinations so we don't always have the two new guys together. They get to work with a vet. You guys have commented on several days that J.J. has shown up. I've really noticed Justin Evans showing up the last two days."
Justin Evans hasn’t shown up that much yet, but J.J. Wilcox certainly has—in part because the Bucs have been experimenting with him as a slot defender. That’s a pretty common ploy in the NFL when faced with tight end-heavy formations: to guard against the run and the pass, you bring in a safety who can stop both adequately, rather than a linebacker or cornerback who can only do one of the two.
Evans might not get a lot of things done this year, though. The rookie was already inconsistent (if very promising) in college, and he’ll likely need some time to adjust to the NFL. Still, the fact that he’s getting some playing time with the first team is at least a little promising, and does show that the Bucs want to get him in there at some point in the future.
One reason it has taken this long for them to get first-team practice time: they were both injured for most of the offseason prior to training camp, preventing them from getting started. Now they’re ready, though.