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Bucs linebacker K.J. Britt never allowed his injury to derail his leadership and performance

A conversation with Locked On Auburn host, Zac Blackerby

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Former Auburn Tigers linebacker, and one of the newest Tampa Bay Buccaneers, K.J. Britt must have a football face.

Back when Todd Bowles was the newly hired defensive coordinator for the Bucs, staff writer Carmen Vitali published a conversation with the seasoned coach, and in one part of the conversation, he mentioned his ability to read the faces of people he interacts with.

“It’s just a look,” Bowles told Vitali. “You have a look. That tells me what kind of player you are or aren’t. It’s different depending on the person, it’s hard to describe but… I’ve never been wrong.

It may be simplistic, but maybe this is why Britt is a Buc, today. Having been selected by the defending Super Bowl champions to join a stacked linebacker group, Britt was quick to talk about how surprising it really was the team drafted him in the first place.

Asked by Greg Auman of The Athletic about his interactions with the team ahead of the NFL Draft, Britt said,

“I’m really, really blindsided. I only talked to the Bucs at the Senior Bowl. I know I had a great interview with the Bucs at the Senior Bowl. Didn’t talk to any coaching staff or (anything) during the process...just one time with the Bucs at the Senior Bowl and I guess I just made a good impression then.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Outback Bowl - Minnesota v Auburn Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For clarity, I’m not actually suggesting Bowles looked at Britt’s face alone and this turned into Jason Licht pulling the trigger on a fifth-round draft selection. But it’s an interesting anecdote I recalled when hearing Britt’s surprise in being selected to join Tampa Bay’s stacked defense.

So, why did the Bucs draft him? To get there, we have to ask what he brings to the squad. I did exactly that to someone who’s been covering Britt’s collegiate career, Zac Blackerby of the Locked On Auburn Podcast.

“His first step is really really good,” Blackerby told me. “His football IQ is top-notch...and most importantly he’s going to work harder than anybody else in the room, and he’s a guy that you really really want in your locker room.”

This is all great, and I’m sure the Buccaneers knew the same when they drafted him. Britt is a hard-hitting linebacker who prepares and studies like a pro before he’s ever stepped into an NFL meeting room. But there’s a reason he fell to the fifth round, and in fact, was expected by many to get selected later than where the Bucs took him. Pass defense.

The report on this rookie is his pass coverage is suspect at best. Yet, when he stepped on the field at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, he didn’t look like the liability a lot of scouting reports might tell you he is.

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

And this wasn’t lost on Blackerby either as he told me, “...all season, we were like, ‘Man, please get him off the field on third and eight (or more). Get him off because Auburn’s got other guys that can cover in space.’ And you hear that, and then all of a sudden he goes to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, and all these draft reporters are saying, ‘Yeah, the best linebacker in coverage is K.J. Britt,’ and I’m like, ‘What!?’. It’s like all of his rehabbing getting healthy you could tell it’s something that he worked on. And K.J. is gonna outwork you, I mean he’s gonna work as hard as he possibly can to help his team because that’s the kind of guy he is.”

In fact, at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, Britt was selected by his team’s running backs and offensive lineman as the best linebacker of the week. High praise for any player, but when you’re selected by guys like Trey Smith (Tennessee), Ben Cleveland (Georgia), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), and Landon Dickerson (Alabama), it adds another layer.

Respected by his teammates. Not the first time Britt earned this distinction, and it won’t be the last. Despite playing just two games, Blackerby told me the Senior’s presence on the defense at Auburn was felt nonetheless.

Mentioning Britt as one of the best leaders he’s seen come through Auburn, Blackerby said, “I‘d never seen a guy be a face of a defense without, like, actually playing on the field. And so that’s the kind of leader that K.J. Britt is. It was still his locker room despite him not playing and I never really seen a guy have that kind of pull before, and so that’s what you’re getting with K.J. Britt.”

High praise indeed, especially when you consider two other defenders Blackerby has seen come through the program include Super Bowl champions and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenders, Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean.

Perhaps it's the lineage and success Tampa Bay has had with Auburn players in the past. Running back Peyton Barber was an undrafted free agent out of the school when he joined the Bucs and eventually played his way to a starting job before leaving for Washington in the 2020 off-season.

Maybe it’s his reputation as a between-the-tackles thumper who can contribute to the run defense while playing an important role on special teams. Perhaps his leadership is what put him over the top for the Buccaneers. Or maybe he just has a ‘football face’.

Whatever it is, K.J. Britt is a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Looking forward to playing the game he loves, putting it all out on the field for his team, and proving to his doubters he’s more than capable of playing the game at the highest level.

For more on K.J. Britt and my conversation with Locked On Auburn host Zac Blackerby, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast.