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NFL Draft

Vita Vea Fitting In Superbly In Dominant Buccaneers Defense

  • The Draft Network
  • September 30, 2020
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Back in 2018, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht took one look at then Washington Huskies defensive tackle Vita Vea and went, “Yup, that’s my guy.”

I’m obviously simplifying things there, as there is always a lot more that goes on behind the scenes when evaluating prospects, especially with potential first-round picks. But whatever that process was, it did, in fact, lead to Licht selecting Vea No. 12 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

Vea was a hulking (and I do mean that in every sense of the word) 350-pound mammoth of a middle man for the Huskies defense. His presence each and every week made offensive lines adjust what they were doing, simply because there was no blocking this man one-on-one. Vea was constantly double-teamed and even triple-teamed, at times, just to try to give quarterbacks enough time to read the field and get rid of the ball. Though Vea only finished with 9.5 sacks throughout his three-year college career, many pointed to the extra attention he commanded as the reason, and Licht loved the idea of getting Vea as a centerpiece to build his defense around.

During his first season in the league, Vea was not the impact player Buccaneers fans thought he was going to be. He was in the process of re-shaping his body, making sure the high amount of pounds he had on him were correctly distributed and served a purpose. That made it tough for him to do what he did best throughout his entire football career to that point: just be bigger and stronger than everyone else.

But, as many will tell you, when you get to the pro level, everyone is big and strong; you have to be more than that to be great.

It’s been a journey for Vea to be the consistent force in the middle the Buccaneers drafted him to be, but after re-watching the Buccaneers’ most recent game against the Denver Broncos, it’s clear that Vea is once again a real problem for interior offensive linemen.

It did not take long for Vea to overwhelm Broncos rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry on Sunday.

Vea (50) was lined up straight up in front of the face mask of Cushenberry as a 0-tech defensive tackle in the play above, an alignment Vea found himself in often on Sunday. The reason why was because his burst out of his stance, natural leverage, and sheer strength was too much for the rookie to handle one-on-one. By putting Vea in that spot, it was tougher for the Broncos to double team right off the snap.

With each of the defensive ends to Vea’s right and left occupying the guards, Vea was able to dominate and flush the quarterback out of the pocket.

Vea wasn’t just dominant when he was going up against Cushenberry in the middle.

In the play above, Vea was lined up as a 3-tech defensive tackle right over the outside shoulder of Broncos guard Dalton Risner. Now, Risner was the toughest challenge for Vea that game. As the game went on, Risner was even able to get the better of Vea on most of their matchups. But in this rep early in the game, Vea’s strength and momentum were too much for Risner.

Vea showed in this clip that, as good as he might be at bullying interior offensive linemen back into the pocket using a bull rush and good leg drive, he’s also as slippery of a 330-pound player you’ll find getting in-between gaps.

Vea’s strength is imposing.

As seen above, quick double teams aren’t very effective against him. Offensive linemen like to combo block, where they have a quick double team to neutralize a bigger defensive player, and then once their momentum is stopped, one of the offensive linemen will then climb to the second level. The Broncos tried that in the play above, but Vea proved to be too fast and too strong once the second offensive lineman tried to get off the double to climb to the second level.

This might be my favorite play I’ve seen from Vea all year. This is the kind of strength we’re talking about when we mention how controlling Vea can be.

Vea was able to keep control against Cushenberry at the snap, not allowing the center to push him back much at all. But Cushenberry’s grip on Vea was still strong, and it didn’t allow Vea to get off the block when the running back arrived in the hole. So what did Vea do? He used the center to tackle the running back.

Unreal domination from a single player in the middle of a defensive line.

For the second week in a row, Vea gave opposing offensive linemen some swimming lessons during the game.

When Vea entered the league, he really didn’t have many pass rush moves in his arsenal outside of just locking on and bull-rushing straight into the quarterback. He still does that plenty as his bread and butter, but it is nice to see Vea throwing in the occasional finesse move to keep offensive linemen guessing. 

Vea has short arms, so pass-rush moves are not his forte just because he doesn’t have a lot of length to work with to either create separation, disengage hands, or just be difficult for offensive linemen to latch onto. That may be something that holds him back from being a sackmaster in the NFL, but as seen above, the disruption potential is still at a very high level.

There was frustration during the first two seasons of Vea’s career when fans were expecting him to rack up the stats. But in reality, that was never going to be him. He was supposed to be a centerpiece that allowed the Buccaneers to build a defense of playmakers around him, while he, too, dominated his position in his own way. 

It took them a few years, but that looks to be exactly what Tampa Bay has now in Vea and one of the best defenses in the NFL around him.

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