The Buccaneers’ safety group has felt like a weakness for years, but in 2020, that could be changing.
Tampa Bay has spent the last few years stockpiling young talent in the secondary, and that started to show toward the end of last year with the outstanding growth of the team’s cornerbacks. The safeties, on the other hand, still left something to be desired. But early on in training camp, it sure sounds like that group is ready to take a step forward in 2020.
After Thursday’s practice, head coach Bruce Arians spoke with the media and had plenty to say when asked about the Bucs’ young safeties. Talking specifically about the development of Jordan Whitehead, who is entering his third season in the league, and Mike Edwards, who is heading into his second, Arians had this to say:
“Jordan looks good – he’s playing the pass better, he’s a little bit stronger to a point. You know he’s going to throw his face in the fan – no question about that – so the weight should help him there. I like Mike’s progress. He’s getting his hands on balls, breaking on balls, getting out to centerfield [and] covering a lot of ground, and he’s doing a better job tackling when we’re tackling.”
Whitehead has shown plenty of promise over his first two years, while Edwards had somewhat of a slow start to his career in 2019. But with both of those guys gaining valuable experience in Todd Bowles’ defense last season, we could see them take things to the next level this fall.
And, of course, the talent at the position doesn’t stop there, as the Bucs spent a second-round pick in this year’s draft on Antoine Winfield Jr., whose ballhawking skills should add a ton to the defense right off the bat. Arians was asked Thursday about the possibility of seeing the rookie on the field at the same time as Whitehead and Edwards, which drew this response:
“There’s no doubt. He’s a player that could be dime, nickel, back end safety – his versatility allows him to be with any group of guys we want out there, whether it’s three corners, three safeties, whatever package we want to put in, he could be in there.”
That kind of versatility will always come in handy, especially when it’s paired with the amount of talent that Winfield possesses. With such a strange offseason, it’s hard to tell how early the Minnesota product will make an impact, but you have to imagine it won’t be too long before he’s out there making plays.
With Whitehead, Edwards and Winfield all having their own exciting qualities, it’s hard not to like what the Bucs have at the safety position these days. Plus, you can add the always-steady Andrew Adams to the mix, and you’ve got four solid safeties who appear poised to break out this season. That will make for some good competition in camp, and it should continue throughout the season. Edwards spoke about the level of competition in the safety room on Thursday, saying this:
“It makes everybody better. Antoine [Winfield Jr.] is a real good player. He came in and he’s real versatile. Andrew Adams, he’s our vet in our room. He brings enthusiasm and can play all different safety spots. Jordan Whitehead, he’s the vocal guy in our room. He’s a hard hitter – that’s my boy right there. We’ve got a lot of depth in our secondary, so we all can play different safety spots and we’re just flying around, getting all the guys on the defense lined up and just playing football.”
However the depth chart shakes out, it sounds like the group as a whole is looking to make a bigger impact on the team’s turnover margin this year, with Edwards saying:
“Yeah, for sure. We’re trying to turn those pass deflections into interceptions, trying to get our eyes on the quarterback and play the football. I just feel like we need to make more plays on the back end. We didn’t have many picks as a whole secondary. I feel like we can definitely get more this year. [We are] just playing fast and we’ve got a good defense where we’ve got eyes on the quarterback, [we are] breaking on him and just making plays.”
With a defensive coordinator like Bowles, it’s hard to imagine the secondary—safeties included—not improving even more this year. Plus, the fact that the group is facing a guy like Tom Brady in practice every day can’t hurt either.
In a pass-happy NFC South, the Bucs are going to need their safeties to be better this season if they’re going to compete at a high level. From early talk in camp, it sounds like these guys are up to the challenge.