Are Bucs Covered At ILB In 2024 With K.J. Britt? - Sport News

Are Bucs Covered At ILB In 2024 With K.J. Britt?

As expected, the Bucs moved on from former first-round pick Devin White this offseason. The five-year starting middle linebacker lost his starting job to K.J. Britt at the end of the 2023 season due to inconsistent play and poor effort at times.

Tampa Bay did not sign a middle linebacker in free agency. So unless the team spends a premium draft pick on one next month, Britt seems poised to remain the starter in 2024.

Are Bucs Covered At ILB In 2024 With K.J. Britt?

In order to keep the starting job, Britt must improve in pass coverage this season, and that’s been his focus this offseason.

“In some coverages I need to slow down,” Britt said. “I get myself in trouble trying to see too much. I see stuff sometimes too fast, and I anticipate it. That can get me in trouble. I’m going to make sure by the time I come back next year that I’m more comfortable and not get in trouble by overacting and playing too fast.”

Britt may not be the elite athlete that White is nor does he have 4.4 speed, but he did bring a steadying presence to the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense as the team won five of its last six games to win the NFC South and make the playoffs last year. White was too often out of position or couldn’t get off blocks in the run game during the 2023 season, so head coach and defensive play-caller Todd Bowles decided to platoon Britt and White on defense down the stretch.

Britt is a downhill thumper and was much better than White in run defense. So he played in base defense and on likely run downs. Bowles would often deploy White as a blitzer and use his athleticism more in coverage on probable passing downs where he finished with two interceptions and 2.5 sacks last season.

Britt’s 72 Pro Football Focus run defense grade was near the top of the team in 2024, right behind Lavonte David’s 75 run defense grade. By comparison, White’s run defense grade was a dismal 31.4, according to PFF. That led to the Bucs letting White go in free agency where he signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Eagles this offseason.

Britt was also the Bucs’ most sure tackler of any Tampa Bay defender with 100 snaps or more in run defense. He had a missed tackle rate of just 3.8%, which was far superior to White’s 8.3% missed tackle rate.

But it wasn’t like Britt was a slouch in coverage, either.

K.J. Britt Needs To Improve In Pass Coverage But Wasn’t Necessarily A Liability
After spending the first two and a half years of his career in Tampa Bay as a core special teams player and learning Todd Bowles’ scheme behind the scenes, K.J. Britt saw more action on defense last year than ever before – mostly at the end of the season and the playoffs. And he was decent in coverage – in terms of not allowing many yards after the catch due to his superior tackling skills.

Britt played on 150 passing downs last year and was in coverage for 123 of those plays, which was 82% of the time. He posted a respectable 64.4 Pro Football Focus coverage grade. Lavonte David, who is known for his superior coverage ability, had a 68.6 PFF coverage grade by comparison.

Devin White played the majority of middle linebacker coverage snaps last year, dropping in coverage on 472 of those 620 snaps (76.1%). He allowed 32 completions on 45 targets (71.1%) for 354 yards and one touchdown. White also forced three incompletions, broke up two passes and intercepted two others. But his overall PFF pass defense grade was just 58.4.

Despite having a better PFF pass grade than White did, Britt allowed 10 catches on 11 targets (90.9%) for 87 yards – mostly in underneath coverage. He – and Bowles – would like to see that completion percentage go way down in 2024.

In Tampa Bay’s 31-23 loss at Detroit, Lions quarterback Jared Goff completed all five of his passes in Britt’s vicinity for 47 yards. That was over half of the passing game production the Auburn product allowed all year.

Despite finishing the Divisional playoff game with a career-high 12 tackles, Britt’s struggles in pass coverage in that game against the Lions left a bad taste in his mouth as the season ended.

Britt forced one incompletion, broke one pass up and did not allow a touchdown during the 2023 season, but he wants to make strides in coverage. By working on his pass drops this offseason and studying more film, Britt hopes to become an even better pass defender as he enters a contract year.

“I’m going to slow down and let things unfold,” Britt said. “The game, as fast as it is, is also kind of slow. You’ve got to let things unfold and not commit to things too fast. I’ve got to make sure I do that in coverage.”

K.J. Britt Is Penciled In As The Bucs’ Starting Middle Linebacker
K.J. Britt will receive some competition from a pair of in-house linebackers in J.J. Russell and SirVocea Dennis, last year’s fifth-round pick. And there is a chance that the Bucs could draft another middle linebacker candidate to vie for the right to start next to Tampa Bay legend Lavonte David.

But for the time being, Britt’s name is atop the Mike linebacker depth chart – in pencil – as the Bucs are nearing the start of the offseason program on April 15. The chiseled, 6-foot, 235-pounder who started the last five out of the last six games of the season is taking his new role in stride.

“I didn’t overthink it,” Britt said. “It is what it was. I’m not the type of guy that gets so hyped up in the moment because you’ve still got to line up and play. I took those reps on defense like I took my reps on special teams – just one play at a time.

“I say it time and time again, I know people asking me what it’s like to be a starting linebacker or whatever – I’m cool with it. I’m cool with just trusting the process. I’m going to get better, and whatever comes, it comes. And whatever it brings, it brings.”

If Britt continues to be a tackling machine against the run and can improve his pass drops and hone his coverage skills, his fourth year with the Bucs could bring a contract extension by season’s end.

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