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Todd Bowles Names 4 Bucs As “Chess Pieces”

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By: Scott Reynolds

At times during his stint as Tampa Bay’s defensive play-caller, Todd Bowles has been playing chess while opposing offensive coordinators have been playing checkers.

Look no further than the Bucs’ 32-9 dismantling of the Eagles in the Wild Card playoffs last year. Bowles’ game plan was a masterpiece in that postseason win and was reminiscent of Tampa Bay’s 31-9 triumph over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV in 2020. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were held out of the end zone in that game, and the Bucs made Bowles the NFL’s highest-paid defensive coordinator shortly thereafter.

Two years later, Bowles replaced Bruce Arians as the team’s head coach and has remained the defensive play-caller. Bowles delivered some defensive gems last year down the stretch as Tampa Bay won five of its last six games to make the playoffs. His defense pitched a shutout in a 9-0 win at Carolina in Week 18 to capture a third straight division title, in addition to a pair of late-season lopsided wins over Green Bay, 34-20, and Jacksonville, 30-12.

Tampa Bay’s chess master has carved out a reputation as being one of the NFL’s most creative and innovative blitzers, and that requires having a roster complete with having some key chess pieces to deploy. Bowles mentioned his four chess pieces by name at the NFL Annual Meeting on Tuesday and talked about the versatility each player offers.

“Right now the chess pieces we have are [Antoine] Winfield [Jr.], Lavonte [David], [Joe] Tryon[-Shoyinka] and [Zyon] McCollum. Those four guys can do a lot of jobs. Other people can do some jobs, but those four guys in particular right now – and if you have more, you have more. But last year those were the four guys.”

Four Of Todd Bowles’ Most Versatile Defenders Are “Chess Pieces”

Bucs head coach Todd Bowles and FS Antoine Winfield Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

It’s no wonder that two of the names that Todd Bowles mentioned happen to be the Bucs’ best defenders. Linebacker Lavonte David led the team in tackles with 134 last year, as well as tackles for loss with 17, and was tied for fifth in sacks with 4.5. David also fared well in pass coverage, even at age 33, and had five pass breakups.

All-Pro free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. led the Bucs in just about everything else last year. His six forced fumbles led Tampa Bay as well as the NFL, and he also had a team-high four fumble recoveries and three interceptions. His 12 pass breakups were also the most in Tampa Bay, his 122 tackles were second only to David, and his six sacks were second on the Bucs behind YaYa Diaby’s 7.5.

But who are the other two chess pieces according to Todd Bowles? In the chess master’s mind, it’s outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and cornerback Zyon McCollum.

“You can see Lavonte on the edge, you can see him back deep, you can see him up front,” Bowles said. “You can see Zyon at safety, nickel, corner. You can see Joe play inside ‘backer, three-technique, outside ‘backer. You can see Win at nickel, ‘backer and safety.

Bucs HC Todd Bowles And CB Zyon McCollum

Bucs HC Todd Bowles And CB Zyon McCollum – Photo by: USA Today

“Those guys can move around. You don’t need all of them to be chess pieces. You just need a few. If you have more, that’s great. If you don’t need to use them that’s great, too.”

Tryon-Shoyinka had a career-high five sacks last year, in addition to 45 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Last year, he played 587 snaps at outside linebacker last year, 10 inside at defensive end/tackle, 17 snaps at inside linebacker and 11 as a slot cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Bucs drafted Tryon-Shoyinka to be an edge rusher, but with just 13 sacks in his three seasons in Tampa Bay, Bowles will use JTS in a ‘joker’ role where he can use his 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame and athleticism to do multiple things rather than just line up at outside linebacker.

“Joe is a very unique player,” Bowles said. “He’s not going to be a go-around-the-corner, Shaq-type guy. Joe can move all across the line of scrimmage and help us in a lot of things. He’s our linebacker, he’s our defensive end, he’s our three-tech, he’s our part-time nickel, he’s our part-time inside ‘backer. He can come from a lot of areas, so he has a lot of jobs. He’s one of those chess pieces that I talk about.”

McCollum was used mostly as an outside cornerback last year, replacing either Jamel Dean or Carlton Davis III in the starting lineup when either was injured. But when both Dean and Davis got healthy at the end of the season, Bowles found ways to keep McCollum on the field in the secondary.

McCollum played 66 snaps in the box last year with 25 of those snaps in the last four games of the year, including the playoffs. In that same timeframe, McCollum played 34 of his 36 snaps at free safety. Of his 95 snaps in the slot, 38 came from Week 17 on.

Is Jordan Whitehead The Next Chess Piece For Todd Bowles?

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead and head coach Todd Bowles

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead and head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

New strong safety Jordan Whitehead spent the last two seasons in New York playing much more coverage with the Jets than he did in Tampa Bay from 2018-21. Whitehead should be a much more versatile and complete player for Todd Bowles this time around, and that could allow him to be deployed in several different ways in 2024.

“I thought he matured,” Bowles said of Whitehead. “I thought his hands were extremely well – worked well with the Jets. I think he played back deep a lot better and he understood quarters and half coverage where we used him more around the line of scrimmage. We used him back in coverage some. I think he became a very good third down player. He was still young when we had him and he matured a lot over the years. All of that we expect to see when we get out on the field.”

Bowles uses the OTAs and mini-camp and even training camp to experiment with the Bucs defenders on the roster. He’s excited to get a look at the new and improved Whitehead to see if he can become an interchangeable chess piece the way Antoine Winfield Jr. is in the secondary.

“There is a very good chance,” Bowles said. “We’ll continue to monitor that as the offseason begins and we’ll get the guys in and see how that goes. He can do those things, it’s just a matter of who is on the field at that time that can be those type of players.”

Game on.

The post Todd Bowles Names 4 Bucs As “Chess Pieces” appeared first on Pewter Report.

Originally posted on Pewter Report