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Final 53-Man Roster Projections: Defense

How will the defense shake out?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
Will Noah Spence make the final cut?
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the offense has been taken care of, it’s time to turn toward the defense.

Injuries will dictate a lot of the decisions on this side of the ball. Ryan Smith’s suspension could come into play, as well.

If you missed the offensive side of the ball, check it out here.

Defensive Line (6): Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Beau Allen, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jeremiah Ledbetter

Vea will likely avoid the PUP, so he will count toward the active roster heading into the season. One thing to pay attention to in regards to Vea’s injury is the fact that if the Bucs carry five defensive linemen, then that should bode well in terms of a Week 1 return.

Nunez-Roches and Ledbetter have made enough plays and have shown enough improvement to warrant a roster spot.

But Vea’s return will dictate what happens here. If the Bucs feel like he will be back before the end of September, they could carry five players in order to create room elsewhere.

Outside Linebacker (5): Shaquil Barrett, Carl Nassib, Noah Spence, Anthony Nelson, Devante Bond

Speaking of the PUP, Jason Pierre-Paul could land there, which would create an extra roster spot. He was recently cleared to resume rehab activities - which is good - but the timetable for return is still unclear.

We don’t know the specifics of Nelson’s injury, but we do know it was bad enough for him to miss the entire preseason. This will likely cause the Bucs to keep one more guy, just in case he can’t go during the early portions of the regular season.

Bond looks like he has a ton of potential on the edge and is very good on special teams. Spence had a solid offseason and appears safe.

Inside Linebacker (5): Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Deone Bucannon, Jack Cichy

This position seems pretty set. It feels like the Bucs would carry five here no matter what, but with David’s knee surgery, they will likely carry five just in case he can’t go against the 49ers.

Bucannon’s versatility really comes in handy for roster cuts. He can play both inside linebacker and safety, which will allow the Bucs to keep another player elsewhere on the roster.

Arians has praised Cichy all offseason. He will likely be the fifth linebacker.

Cornerback (5): Vernon Hargreaves III, Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, M.J. Stewart

The cornerbacks are pretty much set when you think about it. All of them are young, but VHIII boasts the most experience, Davis balled out all camp/preseason, Stewart has looked good, and SMB/Dean were high draft picks.

Pit wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bucs go with six here, especially when you consider how many CBs Bowles likes to have on the field at certain times during a game.

Safety (5): Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards, Kentrell Brice, Justin Evans, Darian Stewart

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: injuries will have a lot to do with this position.

We don’t really know how long Edwards will be out and Evans has just a handful of practices under his belt. For all we know, he could be an ineffective player in this defense, but he has the skills to succeed.

Stewart didn’t do much in the preseason, but his versatility - and his skills near the line of scrimmage - should get him a spot.

Kicker, Punter, Long-snapper (3): Matt Gay (K), Bradley Pinion (P), Zach Triner (LS)

Yep. Gay beats out Cairo Santos for the spot. Pinion was a lock from day one and Triner has played well all offseason.