Bucs edge rushers Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson logging overtime in regulation

TAMPA — Long before Sunday night’s Bucs game against the Cardinals went to an extra session, two players had worked overtime. On Christmas night, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson logged nearly as much TV airtime as Jimmy Stewart.

“They’re young guys,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles quipped this week. “They could use the legwork.”

They got it by repeatedly trying to come off the edge without coming off the field. By the end of that 19-16 triumph, the emergent tandem of outside linebackers had played all 76 defensive snaps. Nelson played an additional 15 on special teams.

“Those are some fresh legs, man,” said 31-year-old defensive lineman William Gholston, whose defensive snap total (30) paled by comparison. “I look and I’m in awe, like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of snaps.’ But it’s a (testament) to who they are as players.”

Not to mention proof of the Bucs’ depth issues at the position.

Sunday was the second straight game in which Tryon-Shoyinka, 23, and Nelson, 25, played every defensive snap, something practically unheard of for their position in this era.

In a more prosperous time for the Bucs, they were burgeoning cogs in a steady outside-linebacker rotation. But before you could say injured reserve, they became the rotation.

Promising third-year backup Cam Gill suffered a Lisfranc injury in the preseason opener. Two-time Pro Bowler Shaquil Barrett tore an Achilles against the Ravens on Oct. 27. Practice squad callup Genard Avery went on injured reserve after hurting his abdomen in Week 14. Veteran Carl Nassib was sidelined with a recent pectoral injury.

“I did it in high school when you play both sides; you never came off the field,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “But that’s kind of what it felt like.”

Though hardly ideal, Bowles said the extended duty has benefited both players.

“The experience is doing them wonders — both of them — in the run game as well as the pass game,” said Bowles, whose 7-8 team can clinch the NFC South title with a win Sunday against the Panthers. “They’re gaining pass-rush moves as they go, facing different tackles and different blocking schemes every week. I think the experience for them has been great.”

The Bucs’ 2021 first-round draft pick, Tryon-Shoyinka has potential that has been brandished only in spurts during this ebb-and-flow sophomore season (30 tackles, four sacks), and coaches still are waiting for a signature performance from him. But five of his 12 quarterback hits have come in the last two games.

“It’s fun being out there any time of the game, so it’s kind of something new for me, just to be out there and just understand what I’m getting every play,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “And I just kind of get in a different flow, different feel. I might not be as juiced up if I had sub (duty).”

Nelson, the Bucs’ fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa in 2019, has forced fumbles in two of the last three contests, including a strip sack of quarterback Trace McSorley (which Devin White recovered) on the Cardinals’ first possession Sunday night.

“I feel like I’m just playing looser,” Nelson said. “Just a better understanding of what other people are trying to do to me and do to us as a defense.”

His statistic line in the last three games: 15 tackles, 1½ sacks, two forced fumbles.

“Nelson’s probably not the most athletic or the most fluid of the bunch, but he’s the smartest, and he’s long and gangly (6 feet 7, 271 pounds),” Bowles said the day after the Cardinals win. “He makes plays, and he’s extremely tough with his arm length that he can use everything. He knows what to do, and he always comes up with a play.”

For both players, another heavy workload may loom. Though Nassib has practiced in a limited capacity this week, he remains doubtful for Sunday. Winners of four of their last six, the Panthers have averaged 240 rushing yards in those four triumphs.

“(Running) is the mindset that they have, and that’s the challenge that we’ve got this week,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “So it’s a big challenge for the defense. We’re going to be up for the task. We’ve just got to show up on Sunday and make it happen.”

The only two healthy edge rushers know they’ll have to arrive equipped with eye discipline, sound tackling technique and strict adherence to run fits.

Not to mention endurance.

“Those guys are energetic and young,” co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said. “They can handle it.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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