TAMPA – The Buccaneers hadn’t even played their first preseason game two years ago when general manager Jason Licht realized the team was a bit soft in the middle against the run.
That sparked the decision to sign former Seahawks regular Tony McDaniel, who stuck around for the rest of the season but returned to Seattle last year and is now back on the street looking for work again.
The street, by the way is where Licht found Sealver Siliga last year when he realized yet again, this time well after the season had started, that the Bucs were yet again proving to be too soft against the run.
Licht took a more pro-active approach to finding that middle-of-the-line run-stuffer this year and in the eyes of some his choice could prove to be not just a good fit for the Bucs, but a bit of a cult hero.
At 6-foot-1, 331 pounds, Bucs seventh-round draft pick Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is a giant of a man, and as we pointed out here after he was drafted by the Bucs last weekend, he has a great story to tell.
What matters most to the Bucs, though, is Tu’ikolvatu’s ability to make plays, and while he may not make a lot as a pass rusher, there is apparently no denying his ability to make then as a run stuffer.
Those are points that scouts agree on universally, but it’s that ability to stop the run that has Mark Renner of the Washington Post thinking that everyone in the football world will soon know about Tu’ikolovatu.
“While you’d be hard-pressed to find any nose tackle around the league currently classified as a “superstar,” Tu’ikolovatu has all the skills necessary to become a household name,’’ Renner wrote in his assessment of what he considered some of the draft’s biggest steals.
“In his final season at USC, Tu’ikolovatu was easily the highest-graded defensive lineman in run defense, trailing only Stanford’s Solomon Thomas nationwide in that respect (Thomas was drafted No. 3 overall by the 49ers).
“At nose tackle, not losing is usually more important than making plays, and Tu’ikolovatu was downgraded only 19 times all season in run defense – fewer than two times per game.’’
Again, it doesn’t look like Tu’ikolovatu will bring much as a pass rusher, but if he can help the Bucs defense create more third-and-long situations, he’ll be worth his weight in gold.