In one of the biggest surprises of the offseason for Tampa Bay, HC Todd Bowles announced Sunday that Christian Izien has secured the starting nickelback role for the Buccaneers.
The rookie undrafted free agent out of Rutgers beat out veterans like Dee Delaney, as well as fellow first-year Josh Hayes (who was a sixth round pick). Izien has appeared to be the clubhouse leader for awhile. He started strong in minicamp, where he immediately caught notice of the coaching staff with his tenacity, workhorse mentality, and twitchy athleticism.
Christian Izien on playing a ton in that nickel corner spot, what he’s learned from some of the vets like Antoine Winfield Jr. & more…. @chriscrafty_ @Buccaneers #GoBucs @953WDAE @JayAndZWDAE pic.twitter.com/imp6tFb6hT— Jay Recher (@jayRecher) August 14, 2023
He put a punctuation mark on that potential with real production in the preseason, including a forced fumble in the finale against the Baltimore Ravens. While one play doesn’t make a preseason, it was a tangible microcosm showcasing why he’s earned the position.
Former @Rutgers FB standout Christian Izien made a nice play by punching out the ball causing a turnover! Izien played in the @Hula_Bowl and a had a solid week in Orlando! @draftdiamonds @chriscrafty_ pic.twitter.com/TBa7TC8543— NFL Draft Diamonds (@DraftDiamonds) August 27, 2023
While there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road — playing corner in NFL is incredibly difficult, let alone as an underdog rookie — this year is obviously focused on youth evaluation and development, so patience should be granted to Izien and other newbies, drafted or otherwise. Izien definitely has the speed and explosiveness that the team is looking for, so we’ll see how quickly the mental aspect can come along.
Current leader in the clubhouse for #GoBucs starting nickel position is Christian Izien. The UDFA posted impressive measurables at his pro day. Tons of athleticism and the one element head coach Todd Bowles wanted to really add to this year's defense...speed. https://t.co/uEoZnzrMb2— Joshua Queipo (@josh_queipo) August 15, 2023
If Izien struggles, Delaney who’s entering his third season with the team, will be poised to step in as the primary depth, though he’ll likely play safety as well behind Antoine Winfield Jr. and Ryan Neal.
For now though, praise should be given to an undersized, underrated player who worked his way into a critical role for a defending division champion, starting amongst top-tier players like Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, and Winfield.