The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a big loss in Chicago this past Thursday night, and I’m not talking about the 20-19 ‘L’ sitting in the loss column for 2020.
No, the big loss that night came when Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was subsequently ruled out for the rest of the season.
By most accounts, Vea was having a career year. In fact, statistically, he was on pace to set career highs across the board while demanding extra attention from opposing offenses. The trickle down of the extra attention of course is less attention on other defenders like William Gholston, Ndamukong Suh, and fewer blockers to account for blitzing linebackers.
The Bucs will still have their sights set on the playoffs without Vea, but the road ahead just got tougher, and one of the league’s best run defenses took a big blow.
So, how do the Bucs move on without Vea? They’ll need to figure it out one way or another. The league might push games back for COVID, but they won’t be doing it for injuries. Here are a few ideas the team could - or could continue - pursuing in search of a replacement for defensive tackle, Vita Vea.
DAMON ‘SNACKS’ HARRISON
Damon Harrison’s was one of the first names to surface following the injury to Vea. Taking advantage of current COVID adjusted practice squad rules the Seattle Seahawks signed him to their practice squad just days before the Bucs would lose their talented defensive tackle.
CEO and Founder of The Draft Network JC Cornell was the first I saw to speculate about Harrison, followed by news a few days later the Bucs had approached the 31-year old veteran. Ultimately, he chose to stay on with Seattle, but was not active on Sunday Night Football as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings.
It would seem this conversation can be closed, but I wouldn’t be so sure. For one, the fact Harrison agreed to a practice squad deal is surprising to begin with. In eight seasons as an NFL defensive lineman Harrison was an impactful frontline defender for years.
His best seasons came under Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles from 2015-2017. In those years, Harrison amassed 4.5 sacks and eleven more hits on opposing quarterbacks. Because of his performance with the Jets and coach Bowles, Harrison was a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2016.
Harrison had a few practices with the Seahawks ahead of Week 5, and now they’ll head into a bye week where he’ll get even more time to acclimate. It’s likely Harrison will at least want to see if he can come out of the bye with an active roster spot. If not, he could reconsider the Bucs’ offer if it’s still available.
Of course, another option is to stick with the guys on the roster and look to add a practice squad player or two, especially while dealing with the injury situation currently plaguing the wide receiver group.
Some sort of rotational group comprising of Suh, Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Patrick O’Connor, and Khalil Davis along with some creative scheming by Bowles and the other defensive coaches could do the trick.
Again, we’re not talking about getting same value, just looking for a reasonable replacement to get through the year at this point. If the Bucs get even close to what Vea brings to the field, then kudos to them and lets hope Bowles doesn’t leave for Houston, Atlanta, or one of the other soon-to-be open coaching positions around the league.
Tampa Bay also has Jeremiah Ledbetter and rookie Benning Potoa’e on practice squad as well, so it’s fully feasible to see one of them - likely Ledbetter - called up as well.
A VETERAN POSSIBILITY
Another veteran name to think about is Marcelo Dareus. He’s actually younger than Snacks, but not by much. Dareus will turn 31 in March, and has nine years of NFL experience under his belt.
Last seen with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dareus played in just six games in 2019 due to a core muscle injury which landed the veteran on injured reserve. It’s important to not though, the franchise at the time had stated he could return if needed for a final playoff push or for post-season play itself. Of course, the Jags finished 6-10, so there was no need for this.
Dareus’ best seasons came in 2013 and 2014 with the Buffalo Bills. In those years, he made it to two Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2014 while collecting 17.5 sacks combined.
He’s not likely to put up those numbers now, and his high since then in a single season has been 3.5, but the Bucs don’t necessarily need him to get the sacks as much as they need him to threaten the ability to get them.
Just like the Seahawks are risking now, there’s no way to know before getting him in the building just how healthy or football ready he is, and it may take some weeks before he’s fully ready to go.
For a team with playoff aspirations though, getting a ready-to-go Dareus mid-season might be the shot in the arm the defense needs to make the final run through the season and into the post-season.
INJECTION OF YOUTH
Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate bounced back and forth on and off the practice squad before finally sticking with the team. Perhaps this same path is one in the cards for former seventh-round draft pick, Terry Beckner.
Really, the idea here is looking at other teams’ practice squads looking for young talent who might help in 2020 and could even develop into a regular role player at some point.
Beckner currently sits on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad. Last year, he was praised for having a strong training camp before later being suspended for violating the league rules on performance enhancing substances.
He joined the Bears practice squad in late September, and could at least return to the team with some knowledge of the scheme and having been in NFL practices for a bit, should at least be in better shape than a veteran off the streets.