The first two years of Vita Vea’s NFL career have largely been successful. The 2018 first-round pick has become an integral part of a young and improving defense, anchoring the middle of the defensive line. In 2019, he was a significant part of the Buccaneers boasting the league’s No. 1 run defense.
However, as much potential as Vea has shown over his first two seasons in Tampa Bay, there is one component of his game that he—and his coaches—are hoping to take to the next level in 2020: his pass rushing ability.
Speaking with the media on Tuesday after practice, both head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles talked about the need for their nose tackle to get after the quarterback a bit more in his third season. Asked about the next step in Vea’s development, Arians had this to say:
“I think sacks. He did a good job of pushing the pocket, but he’s nimble on his feet. He should be a heck of a pass-rusher with that bulk. But his quickness, also, and just continue to put moves in his toolbox, continue to get better and use that strength.”
Bowles echoed Arians’ thoughts on the combination of strength and speed that Vea possesses, but also went further into detail on the technical aspect that needs to continue improving upon:
“I think he just has to use his hands more. We know he’s big and powerful, but he’s also fast and athletic, as well. He’s just got to get his hand placement down, use his hands more and not settle for the first time when he puts his hands on him and then try to bull [rush] him after that. He’s just got to swipe and rip and do all those things that Coach [Kacy] Rodgers is asking him to do. He does that more [and] he’ll be a little more effective.”
Vea himself spoke on Tuesday about taking his pass rushing skills up a notch, noting that the work begins even before he gets his reps in on the field:
“The first step starts in the film room, watching film and seeing what’s available, what moves I can do and learning from other people. And, watching film on the opponents and seeing how they pass. Also, just taking coaching from the coaches and working on what they tell me to work on.”
Of course, Vea has shown that he has a knack for getting some push up front. He eats up the interior of the line and often collapses the pocket, creating opportunities for his teammates to make plays off the edge.
But it’s not unfair to say that the former Washington Husky has even more to offer against the pass. If he can create pressure up the middle more consistently in 2020, his sack total could see the benefit. He finished with three sacks as a rookie in 2018 and 2.5 in 2019, so in 2020, it sounds like he and his coaches are looking for that number to increase. With the talent around him, especially in the front seven, he certainly has the necessary support. That’s something that doesn’t appear lost on him:
“I think it’s great. I take it as it’s not every day that you line up next to a JPP or a Ndamukong Suh. For us young guys, I think we’ve got to take advantage of it and also learn from them. I think it means a lot that they came back, and that we stayed together. We definitely have that chemistry within each other, so that’s always good.”
*Transcription courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications.