The Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2013 defense is still being built and shaped by the front office. The remainder of free agency and the draft will almost certainly see numerous players added to that side of the ball, especially considering that the offense is virtually complete at this point of the offseason. With multiple players leaving the defense this spring, including Michael Bennett, Roy Miller, and likely Eric Wright, there are holes in the secondary and defensive line that most fans agree must be addressed. One loss that has been somewhat overlooked is the release of linebacker Quincy Black, who was let go due to a severe injury suffered against the San Diego Chargers last season. Black seemed to be far from returning to health, and the Buccaneers subsequently released the strongside linebacker for failing to pass a physical.
So what have the Buccaneers lost by releasing Black, and how can they replace him? Black played strongside linebacker for the Bucs, a position that is becoming less frequently used in the NFL as it’s the spot on the depth chart that gives way to a fifth defensive back. In the nine games Black participated in, including the one during which he was injured, he played 300 snaps. That’s less than half of the possible snaps during that time. So even before his injury, it was clear that Quincy was not a key member of the Buccaneer defense. So what did he do when he was on the field?
His 300 snaps were divided up into 138 plays defending the run, 128 defending the pass, and 34 rushing the passer. (Thanks to Pro Football Focus for snap counts.) Let’s break down what he did in each area, and see what the Buccaneers have to replace this offseason.
As a run defender, we can take a look at the game against the Kansas City Chiefs to get a microcosm of Black’s season. He played more snaps in that game than any other this past season, and had four tackles. But most of the game was spent getting blocked and sealed out of plays by the Chiefs tight ends. In fact, multiple plays were called to run directly at him, and he was blocked by tight ends who kept him away from Jamaal Charles. His tackles came from peeling off a block and heading to the inside on runs up the middle, rather than making an impact on plays coming in his direction. And he didn’t even occupy the blocker in a positive way in several instances, but was instead ushered outside and up the field, opening up running lanes.
That said, he is a very sure tackler when he does get a chance to pursue a player. Many of his tackles came in pass coverage, where he would cover a zone and typically find himself closing down on receivers, backs, and tight ends and making sure open-field tackles. He never successfully defended a pass, all of the 17 passes thrown in his direction were completed. But he also never allowed a big play, allowing fewer than 10 yards per pass play where he was responsible for the coverage, with the longest play being only 20 yards. He kept his eyes on the quarterback, and closed down on receivers to keep short passes short. So his impact on the passing game was better than expected for a player who was brought to the sideline for “passing situations.”
And how was his impact in terms of pass rush? His impact on that aspect of the game was virtually non-existent. Of the 34 plays he spent rushing the passer, he registered no sacks, and only one quarterback hit, with no other hurries. Compare that to other 4-3 outside linebackers, and you’ll find Black’s impact on pass rush at the very bottom of the league, where an average outside linebacker gets a combined total of QB sacks, hits, and hurries around 10.
Overall, it seems the biggest hole left in the Buccaneer defense by Black’s departure that must be replaced is his sure tackling. Other than that, any linebacker capable of chewing up blockers on the strong side of the field and getting after the quarterback in the rare opportunity afforded to the SAM linebacker in this scheme should fill in just fine. And while I certainly wish Quincy the best, and would love to have him here for the sake of continuity, replacing his on-the-field production will not be a very high hurdle to clear. But failing to put a quality player at that position could result in a weaker defense against the run and short pass. So failing to properly fill Quincy Black’s shoes could lead to a black hole in the Buccaneers’ defense.