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Buccaneers rookie recap: Week 12

Tampa Bay’s rookies played a significant part in Sunday’s 27-9 win over the 49ers.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers beat the 49ers 27-9 at home on Sunday to snap a four-game losing streak. The victory had rookie fingerprints all over it. Throughout this season, these weekly rookie recaps have often been focused on patience required for this year’s class and the small steps of development the newcomers have been making. Finally, this week’s focuses on some significant production.

So, without further ado, let’s get into this week’s happy rookie recap.

DT Vita Vea

A ton of fan frustration this season has been directed at No. 12 overall pick Vita Vea. The Washington product missed all of training camp, the whole preseason and the first three games of the regular season with a calf injury. That obviously slowed his development and has led to sparse usage throughout the year. In his first seven NFL games, he showed flashes of potential. There were times when he would push his man back and collapse the pocket, but there were other times when he would get stood up and struggle to get off his blocks. Considering the success of some of the first-rounders taken after him, a lot of fans have been vocal about their discontent about Vea.

Maybe, just maybe, some of that frustration was tempered by Sunday’s game. Vea took those flashes of potential from earlier the season and turned them into a breakout game. He finished the day with three tackles for loss, one of which was his second career sack. The big man was extremely disruptive, helping the Tampa Bay defense to its best performance of the season. He still only played 37 snaps (58 percent of the overall total), but he made the most of his time on the field. With five weeks left in the season, Vea could build up a lot of momentum by stringing together some more performances like the one he had against San Francisco.

S Jordan Whitehead

As far as rookies go, a lot of the talk after Sunday’s game was about Vea. The first-rounder’s three tackles for loss somewhat overshadowed what ended up being the best game of Jordan Whitehead’s young career. The fourth-rounder led the team in tackles with 11 (10 solo) and came up with two passes defended. One of his primary roles in the game was covering tight end George Kittle, who has been one of the league’s more productive tight ends in 2018. He finished with just six catches (on 12 targets) for 48 yards in Sunday’s loss.

Whitehead was also effective in stopping the run when the scheme called for him to play closer to the line. As Dirk Koetter said Monday, the rookie safety also did a good job of taking what the 49ers were giving him late in the game:

“I think officially they had him for 10 solo, one assisted. He was, when they were checking it down there at the end, Jordan was like getting all like they were completing balls. I was going when he came off I said, ‘Hey man just look at it this way, you’re upping your tackle total. They’re throwing six-yard routes down three scores and you’re just going and tackling them. You’re padding your stats.’ I thought Jordan played well overall. You know, we played a lot of man coverage, especially in the first half when we were in base defense against their 21 personnel. Jordan, not only was he down in the box as a run player – he was the primary guy covering [George] Kittle and I thought he really stayed close to Kittle for the most part. At least three times that I can remember when they were running those against the grain boots, he was right there.”

Whitehead played 60 snaps (94 percent) at safety, which was a step up from his normal total.

CB Carlton Davis

For most of the season, Carlton Davis has been the lone bright spot among Tampa Bay’s rookies. On Sunday, however, he took a backseat to Vea and Whitehead. He finished with a tackle before leaving with an injury. Overall, he played just 36 snaps (56 percent) before missing the remainder of the game.

While he was on the field, he struggled at times. Despite being well-suited for his role at the outside corner position, he moved to the slot at times in Sunday’s game. He didn’t look the same on the inside, getting beat for a touchdown in the first half. It could have just been the staff experimenting with Davis, but it seems clear that playing outside corner is a better role for him. The Bucs are surely hoping his injury isn’t anything long-term, considering the reps he could get down the stretch of this season would help his development greatly.

The best of the rest

Alex Cappa made his NFL debut on Sunday, playing 25 snaps (34 percent) at guard. He had a rough day, which was to be expected for a rookie getting his first look at regular season action... Justin Watson got nine snaps (12 percent) on offense and 15 (54 percent) on special teams... Ronald Jones II is officially healthy again, but was held out of Sunday’s game as a healthy inactive. Considering this season is all but lost, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a rookie running back to be kept on the sideline. He could use the reps... M.J. Stewart was inactive due to a foot injury.