The sudden passing of Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake Sunday has hit home all over the NFL, including with his former boss, and now Bucs coach, Bruce Arians.
Drake died early Sunday morning unexpectedly at age 62 after having coached the Friday night preseason opener for the Steelers with the Buccaneers.
Statement from #Steelers President Art Rooney II on the passing of Darryl Drake.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 11, 2019
“We are at a loss for words following Darryl Drake’s passing this morning. Darryl had such an impact on the players he coached and everyone he worked with throughout his entire career. He was a passionate coach and had a tremendous spirit toward life, his family, his faith and the game of football.
Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Sheila, his three daughters, his grandchildren and entire family during this difficult time.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin also expressed his remorse in a statement and the Steelers announced they would not practice on Sunday as scheduled. And, they might also be postponing their Monday workout due to the sudden tragic loss of one of their coaches.
The sudden death of Drake also hit hard for Arians, who was with Drake, but on the opposing sideline, on Friday night in his new role in Tampa Bay. Arians had hired Drake, as his wide receivers coach, when he got the head coaching job in 2013 with the Cardinals.
Drake (shown in Arizona above in 2016) worked with Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer-to-be, Larry Fitzgerald for five seasons and left Arizona for Pittsburgh, when Arians retired due to health reasons after the 2017 season.
Arians tweeted his condolences Sunday afternoon:
We lost a great man, husband father, coach and a dear friend Darryl Drake. Our prayers go out to his family. RIP brother pic.twitter.com/V0U3fvLleP
— Bruce Arians (@BruceArians) August 11, 2019
Drake had previously been the receivers coach in Chicago for former Bears, Buccaneers and now University of Illinois head coach, Lovie Smith. Drake was on the staff when the Bears went to the Superbowl in 2006.
The reactions continue to pour in Sunday afternoon to the news of his sudden passing.
I am at a loss for words during the sorrowful time. Darryl Drake was a great man who loved the game of football but more importantly he was a great father and husband. My heart hurts knowing he is no longer with us. I will always cherish the good times and the many laughs we had. pic.twitter.com/QFabqQ5JIH
— Charles Tillman (@peanuttillman) August 11, 2019
Darryl Drake was in our coaches bible study. He was a tremendous coach and an even better man. This is hard to believe and we’re all going to miss him. But it’s proof of what the Bible says—tomorrow is not promised to us. 🙏🏽🙏🏽for his family and his players. https://t.co/KAcu1t4ULr
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) August 11, 2019
Drake’s passing during training camp is reminiscent of former Dolphins and Raiders head coach and Vikings assistant Tony Sparano dying during their training camp unexpectedly last year.
The Vikings and coach Mike Zimmer have not been using it as an excuse but did repeatedly mention after the year of how Sparano’s death greatly affected the staff and the team for the remainder of the season.
Bucs have no reason to doubt this Thomas Sunday
The Bucs prepare for the New Orleans Saints to come to town Sunday and they know that the top defensive priority will be trying to contain the league’s most productive receiver, Michael Thomas.
Thomas is currently leading every important reception and yardage category and is even on pace to break a couple of NFL records. And with Drew Brees back from his thumb injury, Todd Bowles’ Tampa Bay defense had better be up to the challenge.
Thomas currently sits atop NFL receivers in receptions (86), yards with 1,027 and yards-per-game 114.1. He also leads with 52 receptions for first downs and has been targeted 10 or more times in seven of New Orleans’ nine games. That also leads the league.
Needless to say, the Saints will try to establish him at Raymond James Stadium early and Brees will look to go to him ,especially on third down and in the Red Zone, often.
As for the Buccaneers secondary, they’ve already had a shake up earlier this week by releasing former #1 pick Vernon Hargreaves. It should be pointed out that Hargreaves was the guy that was primarily trying to cover Thomas, unsuccessfully, in the first matchup in New Orleans last month.
Thomas had 11 catches (photo above) for a season-high 182 yards and season-high 16.5 average per catch with two scores all mostly against Hargreaves in New Orleans 31 – 24 victory. Plus, it should be pointed out that those throws were also from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who finished with four touchdowns on the day in the divisional win.
Now, because of Hargreaves’ release, it looks as though the Buccaneers may be putting one of their two rookie defensive backs, Jamel Dean or Sean Murphy-Bunting on Thomas for at least some of this game.
Dean was exposed in the lost to Seattle, where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks pass attack picked on him for big play after big play in Seattle’s 40 – 34 overtime win. However, the rookie out of Auburn redeemed himself last week with a couple of pass breakups and a crucial fourth-quarter interception of Kyler Murray in the Bucs 30 – 27 come-from-behind win over the Cardinals.
Back to the Saints. They are smarting off of a 26 – 9 loss to Atlanta, where they were kept out of the end zone by the Falcons defensive scheme. Part of their success was with six sacks of Drew Brees and mixing up their coverage of Thomas and the rest of the receivers. Now, Thomas still got 13 catches for 152 yards, but New Orleans could not figure out Atlanta, especially after getting into plus territory.
You would have to think that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have studied what the Falcons did and are ready for whatever the Bucs may be trying to throw at the Saints.
Critically, the pass rush and harassing of Brees is something to Tampa Bay will look to utilize with the likes of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul getting after him. Pierre-Paul did not play in the first matchup, while still recovering from a fractured neck. But, he has already been a force in his first three games back this season.
Barrett leads the NFL currently with the 11.5 sacks through 9 games.
Back to the Pro Bowler Thomas. The Buccaneers may choose to try to double-team him with some safety help to neutralize his downfield effectiveness.
Still, it may be the best strategy to let Thomas get an occasional catch or two, but try to contain the other receivers and harass Breezy enough, just like the Falcons did last Sunday in the Superdome, to get yourself a victory.
Bucs DT Vita Vea got props from NFL Network Wednesday
The Buccaneers got a much-needed win on Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals and Wednesday, the NFL Network wanted to specifically point out the play of defensive tackle Vita Vea.
On the very popular “Good Morning Football” show, co-host Peter Schrager, devoted an entire two minute segments to Vea’s athletic exploits:
Oh, and stay for the Vea high school running back highlights. pic.twitter.com/HqcQdj8spj
— GMFB (@gmfb) November 13, 2019
The massive defensive tackle definitely showcased his offensive athleticism, as a blocker on that key goaline situation, where the Bucs eventually got the game-winning touchdown from running back Peyton Barber.
As Schrager showed, Vea actually got not just one, but three Cardinals blocked or slowed up, to help Barber get around the left end for the clinching score. Schrager also made reference to and had highlight clips of Vea’s Northern California High School exploits, as a 255-pound running back before heading to the University of Washington.
Vea’s athleticism to compliment his size is a big reason why Bucs GM Jason Licht went ahead and drafted him with the 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft.
And while the defensive tackle doesn’t have massive stats this season, he and his linemates or a huge reason why the Buccaneers have been near the top of the NFL in yards allowed rushing this season. This would include holding Cardinals Pro bowl-caliber running back David Johnson to just 2 yards on five carries Sunday.
Vea only officially registered two tackles in the Cardinal game, but that stopped a streak where he had made at least three stops in the previous four games. He has primarily been a compliment next to Pro Bowl veteran Ndamukong Suh and helping jam the middle of the line of scrimmage week in and week out.
As for Vea on offense, coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston both made mention to the media off of Sunday’s game, that Vea is not only a capable blocker, but could also be handed the ball or potentially, even be thrown the ball if needed, in that goal line package that they displayed for the first time on Sunday.
One thing is for sure, starting with this week and the Saints, he now has to be accounted for, if and when, he’s in on offense.
New Orleans’ bigger concern is trying to get Alvin Kamara back going against the tough Bucs run D, which will be led by Vea and his fellow linemen.
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