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Tempering expectations for Vita Vea

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A calf injury in late July caused the rookie defensive tackle to miss the entire preseason. Patience will be key when watching him throughout the 2018 season.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Training Camp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers have been without 2018 first round pick Vita Vea for the entire preseason. He went down with a calf injury early in training camp and has been out ever since. He appears to be on his way back, but once he does return, what can the team really expect from him?

It’s obviously never ideal for a rookie to miss his first training camp. There are so many valuable reps to be had throughout the month of August, especially for a rookie that still has some developing to do. NFL.com’s draft profile noted that Vea “lacks feel for double teams and blocking schemes” and is “too quick to default to brute force over technique.”

Those are the types of things that coaches and veteran teammates could have worked on with Vea during training camp. There isn’t much time in game week practices that will be devoted to development. So what does that mean for the rookie? With that time gone, it’ll be tough for him to burst onto the scene quickly in 2018.

Even before the injury, there didn’t seem to be any type of grand expectations for the Washington product. The thought seemed to be that he would rotate in with veterans Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein, easing his way into the NFL game. He was expected to get time on run-stopping downs, while developing and working his way into pass-rushing situations. But now? All of that is still the case, but probably even more so. Vea has to catch up, which means the Bucs and their fans will have to be patient.

After last Sunday’s practice, head coach Dirk Koetter seemed both frustrated and encouraged with Vea’s situation. In one breath, he said:

“He’s right on track to be back and that part is all good. I mean, are we pleased? It’s hard to be pleased when your first-round pick hasn’t been out at practice very much. But that’s nothing that he can control, we’re not mad at him about it. It’s just one of those things. He had an injury, it has to heal. He’s on the right track. He was out running with the trainers today in full gear before practice, so he’s getting close...

There’s some frustration there. Not having your No. 12 overall pick at practice for a month isn’t ideal. But even still, Koetter seems to think that Vea, being a defensive tackle, will be in a better position to step in and contribute once he’s healthy:

“Sure, sure. Guys can play and I would say D-line is one of the positions that has less to worry about than, say, middle linebacker or free safety or quarterback, for example. But that doesn’t mean missing practice – you know, the best way to get better at football is playing football.”

It seems plausible that a defensive tackle will have an easier time picking things up than one of those other positions. Vea will show flashes, likely more in run-stopping situations early on, but patience will be the key. Fans can’t expect a ton from him this year.

It’s more than likely going to be frustrating at times, especially when guys like Derwin James and perhaps Minkah Fitzpatrick are having early success. But careers in this league are far more of a marathon than they are a sprint. Vea might not be a world-beater in year one, but all hope isn’t lost because of that. Just try to have patience.