Entering post-Brady era, Bucs address pass rush in draft
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed an emphasis on the pass rush in this year's draft as they move deeper into the post-Tom Brady era.
Tampa Bay, which won the NFC South last year with an 8-9 record and was blown out by Dallas in the wild-card round of the playoffs, has more areas to address in addition to the retirement of Brady, who led them to a Super Bowl title in the 2020 season.
The Bucs brought in quarterback Baker Mayfield to compete with Kyle Trask to be Brady’s replacement.
Tampa Bay hopes to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the additions of defensive linemen Calijah Kancey of Pittsburgh in the first round and Louisville's YaYa Diaby in the third.
Tampa Bay added Kancey’s teammate at Pitt, linebacker SirVocea Dennis, in the fifth round on Saturday. Eastern Michigan linebacker Jose Ramirez was one of three sixth-round picks.
“I think none of them, from pick one to the last pick, are a finished product,” general manager Jason Licht said. “I think they all need work at everything. I feel like sometimes we expect them to go out Week 1 and dominate or certainly by their first year, they had to have dominated or been a great player, when it takes time for some of these players. (Sometimes) two years to reach their full potential.”
The Buccaneers also look to get more next season out of linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, a first-round pick in 2021, and lineman Logan Hall, their top pick taken early in the second round, who played sparingly last season as a rookie.
Second-round pick Cody Mauch was a tackle at North Dakota State, but Licht said Mauch will get a look at guard as Tampa Bay retools an offensive line that struggled as the team ranked last in the league in rushing last season.
“We thought all these positions were positions that we felt like we could use and upgrade and get better at,” Licht said. "Overall, I think (coach) Todd (Bowles) said it as well, we wanted to get faster and more physical and we feel like we really did that.”
It's possible that Tristan Wirfs will shift from right tackle to left tackle.
The Bucs released veteran left tackle Donovan Smith and traded guard Shaq Mason this offseason. Center Ryan Jensen missed the entire 2022 regular season after being hurt on the second day of training camp but returned for the playoff game.
Tampa Bay took Purdue tight end Payne Durham in the fifth round, Kansas State defensive back Josh Hayes and Nebraska wide receiver Trey Palmer were added in the sixth round
Even with the draft complete, the work continues.
“You can’t fill every need, you just can’t," Licht said. “Your needs, even after the draft, compared to your needs on Sept. 1 are always different. We still have a lot of time. We don’t play our first game in two weeks.”
Hayes' uncle, the late Geno Hayes, played linebacker for the Bucs from 2008-11.
“The phone started ringing and I saw the (Tampa area code) 813 and I'm like, ‘Man, there’s no way,' Hayes said. ”I can't even explain the emotions I felt at that point."
Dennis' father is from St. Petersburg, Florida, and was wearing a custom Buccaneers jersey at a gathering with relatives in Syracuse, New York.
“I have a lot family from St. Petersburg. ... Huge Tampa Bay fans,” Dennis said. “It's pretty special, a surreal moment.”
Dennis has met Bucs Hall of Fame Derrick Brooks and has a jersey with the linebacker's autograph.
Hayes and Ramirez both went to high school in nearby Polk County.
“I'm a Buc, man,” Ramirez said. “This is a dream come true. I'm living the dream right now.”
Tampa Bay vice president of player personnel John Spytek said the selections were “purely coincidental.”
“I think it's cool," Spytek said. “Their families are screaming in the background when Jason's on the phone. I think it was Jose who said, ”Are you serious?' Jason was like, ‘Yeah, I’m serious.'”
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Mark Didtler, The Associated Press