The Buccaneers took a big hit to their defense in the offseason when Jason Pierre-Paul sustained a neck injury in a car accident. Suddenly, they were set to be without their 2018 sack leader for a significant part of the 2019 season, at least.
Pierre-Paul is reportedly making his way back and hoping for a midseason return, but in the meantime, Tampa Bay is needing guys to step up. Enter rookie outside linebacker Anthony Nelson.
While fellow outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett stole the spotlight with three sacks in last Thursday’s 20-14 road win over the Carolina Panthers, Nelson quietly introduced himself to the NFL with a breakout game. Early in the game, he got into the backfield and knocked down a Cam Newton pass. Later, he forced his first career fumble, which was recovered by Ndamukong Suh.
For a guy who missed some time in the preseason and kind of flew under the radar otherwise, Nelson suddenly has a big opportunity right in front of him. Noah Spence is gone. Pierre-Paul’s return isn’t a sure thing, and even if he does return, he’ll probably need to ease his way back into full-speed play. If Nelson continues to develop as a pro and keeps making plays, he could carve out a nice role for himself in Todd Bowles’ defense.
Speaking of Bowles, he was asked about Nelson on Thursday. He had this to say about the former Iowa Hawkeye:
“He’s smart. He came into the game smart. He rarely makes mental mistakes. He’s just got to keep getting better at the little things. We like what we see in him thus far – it’s early in the season, but he just has to keep grinding. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
For one thing, the fact that Nelson doesn’t make mental mistakes feels like a breath of fresh air. Past Bucs teams have been notorious for making those mistakes and losing games because of it. We’ve even seen some of those problems from some of the guys on this year’s roster.
But if your coaches notice that you’re a guy who doesn’t have those mental lapses, you’re going to get more chances to make an impact. Coaches tend to be more accepting of physical mistakes than mental ones.
Bowles went on to say that it’s early in the season and the rookie has to keep working to get better, which is to be expected. He’s two games into his career, so there’s obviously going to be room for improvement. But the big thing? Bowles – and apparently the rest of the staff – have confidence in the 6-foot-7 linebacker.
The NFL is all about the “next man up” mentality. Well, Anthony Nelson is the next man up, and he’s already started making the most of the position he has found himself in.