Paradigm Shift: How Signing Paul Soliai Could Change the Face of the Buccaneers’ Defense


Yesterday the Tampa Bay Times quietly ran a story that the Buccaneers would be bigger players in free agency this off-season. After a dismal season in which the team failed to spend competitively, and with fan morale at a stunning low, Mark Dominik admitted the team would be more willing to explore free agent options than in the past.

"“We understand we’re not a finished product,” he said. “I know that there’s things we need to address on this team and I know that we’ll do it in all capacities. We’re going to do it in free agency. I don’t want people to be worried that we’re not going to spend in free agency. We’ll be involved.”"

We’re going to be breaking down potential free agents in the weeks leading to the start of the free agency period, but for now here’s an interesting option for the Bucs to mull over.

As I alluded to the other night the Tampa 2 should probably be on its way out. The defensive scheme is outmoded and the Buccaneers lack the personnel to run it. The NFL is moving more towards hybrid defenses with an emphasis on the 3-4. More than that it’s moving towards a style of play where you bring seven or eight men to within a few yards of the line and disguise your pressures and coverages.

It’s time for the defense to join this decade.

One very quick way the Buccaneers could shift to a more formidable defensive scheme would be to move to a 3-4 or at the very least a hybrid model that lets them shift between a 4-3 and 3-4 alignment.

If that’s the plan, and the Bucs truly do want to make a bold move in free agency, they should look at soon-to-be available Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai.

Soliai is a 6’4, 350 lb monster of a man. He will be one of the top free agents on the market and, hands down, the top nose tackle.

A lot of Bucs fans are under the impression their team was better than the Dolphins last year. While the record certainly doesn’t reflect that (and finishing 0-10 is far more embarrassing than starting 0-7), you really need only look at the defenses to understand how much better Miami was.

The Bucs had the worst defense in football. Hands down, bar none, last in points allowed, last in rush defense. Awful. There’s really no way around it. For all Miami’s problems, they had the sixth ranked defense in football in points allowed and ranked third against the run. There’s really no comparison. And the lynch pin in Miami’s run defense last season was their nose tackle.

Fortunately for the rest of the NFL the Dolphins, perhaps errantly, have hired a coordinator that prefers to run more of a 4-3 influenced hybrid defense, and with limited cap space in South Florida it’s likely the high-priced nose tackle is the odd man out.

Now, let me preface by saying I am not coming out right now and saying the Bucs should definitely try to do this, moreso just presenting a potential option.

But, the Buccaneers could sign Paul Soliai and let him completely change the face of their defense. They could move to a 3-4, add bigger linebackers and go a completely new direction.

A 5th year player out of Utah, Soliai is 28 and has just come into the prime of his career. Early on, there were some questions about his work ethic and how good he wanted to be. Over the last few years though, really since Mike Nolan got a hold of him, he has grown into one of the most underrated players in professional football. So much so that Miami used its franchise tag on him last year and paid him exorbitantly as a top-5 defensive tackle.

The man is a mountain in the middle of the field. As unbelievable as it sounds he is a deceptively athletic 6’4, 350. He isn’t incredibly explosive but he doesn’t need to be, he is the definition of power and once anchored, you’re not pushing him back. If the Bucs want to help their run defense dramatically in one fell-swoop, grab Soliai and put him in the middle of your new 3-4.

That would let Gerald McCoy slide outside and rotate with Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. They could use Bowers as more of a pass rush specialist and take some of the wear and tear off of his knee. And then the Bucs could still slide into a 4-3 alignment and take Soliai off the field in pass rushing situations.

The move would have to be coupled with others. The Bucs would need to add bigger linebackers for one. Really only Quincy Black and Dekoda Watson have what you would consider prototypical size for a 3-4 and they’d still be considered small by some standards. Mason Foster could likely play in the middle, but he would need a good battery mate to really excel.

Those needs can be addressed in the draft, or if the Bucs are true to their word there will be plenty of free agent options.

Either way, Soliai is a great way to go if that’s the direction the Bucs want to head. He would be a proven commodity in the middle of a Buccaneers’ line littered with potential. He would instantly improve the run defense and give the Bucs more pass-rushing options. He’s not a fantastic pass rusher himself but he easily occupies a couple of blockers freeing up blitzers and giving other linemen one-on-one matchups.

In a nutshell, he would immediately make the Tampa defense better.

Obviously there are plenty of options, but Soliai will be one of the most intriguing.