Bucs hope Vea stands for victory

by Gary Shelton on April 27, 2018 · 5 comments

in general

Koetter, Licht compare notes in the Bucs' War Room./PHOTO COURTESY OF TAMPA BAY BUCS

Koetter, Licht compare notes in the Bucs' War Room./PHOTO COURTESY OF TAMPA BAY BUCS

Friday, 4 a.m.

And with their latest draft pick, the Tampa Bay Bucs once again added to their rebuilt defensive line.

Meet Vita Vea, rock star.

Vea, the 347-pound defensive tackle from the University of Washington, joins Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein in what should be a more formidable (and more expensive) defensive front for the Bucs.

It isn't just that Vea (full name: Tevita "Vita" Tuli'aki'ono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea. Try stitching that across the back of a jersey.) resembles a human boulder. He can lift them, too.

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The story goes that Vita was with teammates in French Polynesia. The players visited rock-filled fields where bodybuilders gathered. Vea walked across and lifted a bounder, that had been lifted only once by an islander.

“Over there, their strong man competition, they have a tradition where they lift rocks," Vea said. "There’s a lot more to it than just lifting a rock and lifting heavy rocks and working out. They say that in French Polynesia, in Tahiti, on the island I was at, they say that the rock has a spirit that only allows you to pick it up.

"There was only one guy on the island that ever picked it up and I was the second one. I came in and didn’t want to start any problems with anyone and I didn’t know that that was going to be offensive, me picking it up. So, I tried to apologize.

The Bucs originally had the No. 7 draft pick, but after Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson were drafted ahead of them, it limited the team's options. Instead, it traded the pick to Buffalo, moving back to No. 12 and picking up two No. 2 draft picks  (giving it three for today's second round).

“Vita is a guy that we’ve liked for a long time here," general manager Jason Licht said. "Very early in the process he’s a guy that we identified that could really really help us. He’s not only a great run stuffer but he’s also got athleticism, freakish athleticism, for a 347-pound guy and he holds that 347 very well. He’s going to help us in a lot of areas."

Freakish? The guy was a 260-pound high school quarterback. He's been a running back.

"Great kid. Awesome kid," Licht said. "He’s very resilient, been through a lot in his life, him and his family. (He has a) great family. He’s overcome it. We like those kind of guys. I’ve said that over and over. He definitely fits that mold. He’s very tough and loves football. So, we think he’s going to be a great fit here.”

Still, Derwin James -- coupled with the Bucs in most mock drafts -- was there for the Bucs. But the Bucs bypassed James for Vea.

"I know a lot o people had us going with the defensive back there," said Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter. "But we have to be better on defense. What does it matter if we stop the run and get after the passer or defend the pass. We have to get better at both."

The Bucs now seem to have a rotation with Pierre-Paul, Curry, Noah Spence and Will Gholston at end and Gerald McCoy, Vea, Allen and Unrein at tackle. With McCoy now 30 years old, Vea could project into his job long-term.

For the record,, Warren Sapp was also taken with the 12th pick.

This season, Vea won the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award in the Pac 12. He also won the Morris Trophy as the top defensive lineman in the league.

"When I got the call from Buffalo, they made us a great offer after going back a little bit," Bucs' general manager Jason Licht said. "We thought about taking or guy there. We took a risk moving back.We knew there was a good shot. Fortunately for us, he was there."

The beauty of the move, however, was the Bucs getting the guy they wanted and picking up two second-round picks. That adds to the versatility of the draft for the Bucs, who could move into a prime position in the second round or stay pat and added prime draft picks at three spots (running back and two corners?)

“When we brought him in, I asked him in very simple terms," Licht said. ‘What is the most important thing a defensive lineman can do?’ and I believe he said, ‘Kick the crap out of the guy in front of me.’ So, I like that about him. He still has a huge upside I should say. No player is perfect. I like guys that play hard, that are dominant players that still have a huge ceiling, a huge upside. He’s one of those."

There is also some resiliency to Vea. When he was 14, the family home was seized, and the team was homeless for a while.

“This moment is really exciting being that I’m in the situation now, I never have to go through that anymore," Vea said. "When that did happen, I told myself that I was going to make it one day and you know, here I am. That’s that.”

If you buy that the Bucs were interested in Vea with the seventh pick, you have to like their first day. The Bucs came away with the possibility to add a lot of depth in the second round.

Is it enough?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But it's a chance. For a franchise that needs to get better fast, that's moving a boulder all on its own.

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