When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open up the 2019 NFL Season against the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday it’ll also be the first game for many new players who are looking to get their careers started off on the right foot.
Along with first-round draft pick Devin White, there are eight total rookie players on the regular season roster as we enter the weekend. Five on defense, two on offense and one specialist in kicker, Matt Gay.
The youngest of the eight might be the most impactful when looking at the totality of the game as White steps onto the field to quarterback Todd Bowles’ defense at just 21-years old.
Asked this week what he thought of White’s abilities on the defense, Bowles said, “Just the leadership and the maturity of him understanding the communication and what has to go on, on the defense and lining people up. That part for a rookie is not usually seen too much, but he does a great job at it, he understands it, it’s not too big for him.”
Reviews all off-season and throughout the pre-season have been positive in regards to Jason Licht’s latest first-round pick, and he’ll have the opportunity to make good on those comments and his draft position leading his unit against Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers offense.
White’s communication skills and football intelligence are going to be tested early as the 49ers like to use plenty of movement and run an offense notoriously difficult to get a solid read on.
If White has the biggest impact on the field, another rookie stands to have the biggest impact on the scoreboard. Matt Gay impressively won the Buccaneers kicking job over veteran Cairo Santos who has since signed with the Tennessee Titans.
It’s been a long time since Bucs fans had a kicker they were truly excited about heading into the regular season, but the collective will still likely hold their breath whenever Gay gets his first crack at a kick that counts.
Fans of the franchise know all too well just how one missed extra point, or a missed field goal can impact the flow and outcome of an entire game. Gay has a big opportunity, but big opportunities carry a lot of pressure.
Speaking of pressure, a scheme as aggressive as Bowles’ requires the defensive backs to play smart and play consistently well in pass coverage.
Mike Edwards impressed early in camp and the preseason before being sidelined with an injury. Due in part to another injury in the safety group (to Justin Evans) Edwards, a 2019 3rd-Round draft selection, will start the season as the team’s primary free-safety pairing with Jordan Whitehead starting at strong safety.
This means there are going to be plenty of situations where Edwards is the last line of defense for the secondary, and will be expected to see and read correctly, the entire offensive attack.
San Francisco likes to cross a lot and is very creative in how they get tight end George Kittle matched up in favorable situations. If Edwards shows rust from his time on the sideline, it could lead to the Buccaneers defense losing top coverage, and result in big plays for the 49ers defense.
Obviously, Tampa Bay will look to help out Edwards and the rest of the secondary with pressure from the front-seven. Pressure would lead to opportunities as 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is not known as a passer who will throw the ball away when faced with pressure. Instead, Garoppolo likes to target big receivers like Kittle and will force passes into dangerous areas when pressured early.
There will be opportunities for Edwards and his secondary mates to make splash plays for their side. Just how well the unit is reading the field and reacting to what they see, will dictate just how much they can take advantage of those opportunity.
Finally, heading into the first regular season game of the year, Sean Murphy-Bunting is going to be looking for opportunities to impact the game after failing to impress during training camp and in preseason games.
The second-round draft pick enters the year listed as the last cornerback on the depth chart behind starters Vernon Hargreaves III and Carlton Davis, and also behind M.J. Stewart and fellow rookie Jamel Dean.
No snap count prediction would be based on anything but speculation, but for now, we expect Murphy-Bunting to get his opportunities on special teams and in spot duty for the defense.
After disappointing starts to careers for other second-round picks like Noah Spence, Ronald Jones, Roberto Aguayo and Justin Evans due to injury problems, Bucs fans already fear the Buccaneers have found yet another let-down in the second-round.
It’s clear rookies are going to have a big role on the 2019 Tampa Bay defense and special teams. As such, they’ll have a big part to do with the successes and failures of this year’s squad as well.
Week 1 is where we get our first full look at what these players will look like on the NFL field, so make sure you come back early next week as we take stock of how these eight rookies performed against the San Francisco 49ers.
Which rookie do the Bucs need to step-up the most in Week 1?
This poll is closed
LB, Devin White
K, Matt Gay
S, Mike Edwards
CB, Jamel Dean
CB, Sean Murphy-Bunting
WR, Scotty Miller
OLB, Anthony Nelson
G, Zack Bailey