In an era where NFL players coordinate their accessories down to the smallest detail, the Vita V stands out. Unlike their peers who adorn their arms with colored sleeves or equip their helmets with tinted visors, defensive behavior for the Tampa Bay Buccaneer takes a minimalist approach.
On game days, Via goes bare-armed and without gloves in battles against offensive linemen. At 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds, he uses his massive frame against guards and centers, pushing them into quarterback’s laps behind the line of scrimmage as if they were rag dolls.
“It just became a habit,” Wei said of the practice, which began with college mates in Washington. “If I wore gloves, I would just feel restricted.”
Pick any Bucs game this season—the opener against the Dallas Cowboys, their demolition of the Atlanta Falcons or a narrow win over the New England Patriots—and there’s footage of a VA big man being forcibly moved from field to field.
That production doesn’t make specific figures: In four games, the VA has only seven tackles and has yet to record a sack. But the woes of an elite interior lineman by attracting double teams and closing gaps often allow clear alleys to his teammates for ball carriers and quarterbacks, for stats receiving salaries and hardware. Is.
What Vea excels at, and the outsized effect it has on Buc’s defense, which races to finish first in the league in defense, may go unrecognized by those who watch his game casually. For the coaches and players who study them, however, their value is clear.
“He’s one of the best players in this league,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. He continued, “He is such a great man who has such good potential, such good movement. He is a problem. He is a real problem.”
The interior of the defensive line has always been an important, but unfamiliar, uncharted position. Before 2017, the last defensive tackle to win the Defensive Player of the Year award was Warren Sapp in 1999. Rams’ Aaron Donald won it in 2017, 2019 and 2020, but is seen as a traditional interior lineman because of his unusual power and speed, despite being of lesser size than his peers.
Today, the 10 highest-paid edge rushers are paid an average of $3 million more annually than the 10 highest-paid defensive tackles, according to Overthecap.com.
“Edge rushers get more sacks and have more plays, but in the end, we all have to work together,” said Va.
12 overall in the 2018 draft, VA started 24 games in his first two seasons, recording 63 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Last October, Via fractured his ankle when his teammate, linebacker Devin White, crashed against the Chicago Bears. Team personnel kicked VA off the field and he missed the rest of the regular season. But he returned in the middle of the Bucks’ playoff run, and helped hound Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.
Now healthy, Via broke the Cowboys’ offensive line in the league’s nationally televised season opener. In a sequence when Dallas’ 315-pound center Tyler Biadaz cut the ball, V transferred it about 11 yards to the knees of Duck Prescott, who had to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
In the much-hyped Brady vs. Belichick prime time matchup, Via stole some of the spotlight for a moment when he knelt down two Patriots linemen, Ted Karras (305 pounds) and Isaiah Wynn (310 pounds), a wide path for the rookie linebacker. cleaned. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to sack Mack Jones with ease.
Against the Rams, the VA personally blocked two possible touchdown throws to Deason Jackson. In the first quarter, when the Rams were facing third and -10 from their 38-yard line, VA pocketed left guard David Edwards (308 pounds), allowing Matthew Stafford to make his throw early. It sailed short of Jackson, one step ahead of a safety downfield. In the second quarter, he fought through a double team of Edwards and center Brian Allen (303 pounds), giving Stafford an open Jackson miss again.
In those moments, Wei said, he didn’t realize how much force he was exerting on another much bigger human being.
“I have to pretend,” said V. “That’s the only thing on my mind. I have to be destructive. I have to help in some way or the other.”
With the VA plugging holes and rearranging the offensive lines, opponents now focus their near attacks on the Bucs’ young secondary, with the leading starters injured. Opponents averaged 47 passing attempts per game and the Bucks allowed 1,310 yards, the worst in the NFL, prompting Tampa Bay to add veteran cornerback Richard Sherman.
To compensate for a position group in flux, the greater responsibility is to reach the opposing quarterback in the race near Tampa Bay. This includes VA, which coach Bruce Arian said could be even better than him.
“I want to see him finish more because he’s been around eight or nine times,” Arian said. “He’s one of those guys who can have multi-bac games. He’s getting closer, he’s getting better.”
If Ariane is right, the VA may be about to barrel out of the shadows.