Vea has given the Bucs a boost with his return

by Gary Shelton on January 30, 2021

in general

Vea made players around him better./TIM WIRT

Saturday, 4 a.m.

Bruce Arians missed him. Todd Bowles missed him. Heck, you missed him.

But nobody missed Vita Vea like Shaq Barrett did.

Unless it was Jason Pierre-Paul.

Vea, the massive presence in the middle of the Tampa Bay defensive line, left a gaping void when he broke an ankle against the Chicago Bears. Without him, the run defense wasn't as strong. Without him, the pass rush wasn't as fierce.

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Vea returned to action in Sunday's NFL title game victory over Green Bay, and yeah, the gang was back together again. Vea played 33 snaps, and with his presence, Barrett and Pierre-Paul were fierce again. Barrett had three sacks and Pierre Paul had two against the Packers.

You can credit Vea with some of it. In the 15 games that the Bucs played without Vea, Barrett had five sacks. Pierre-Paul had 5 1/2.

Not bad for a guy who was, pretty much, done.

"I think it was the next day or that night (when he started to think he could come back)," Vea said. " I think I had it in my head. Obviously, I was down and out that night, but I think that night I told myself, ‘If you just push through this, push through rehab, you might have a chance.’ They told me I might have a small chance of making it, so I took those chances of what they said, and I really took it to heart. That’s what I stuck with.”

You know the way the world works for interior defensive linemen. It counts one's worth by the sack. That's not Vea's game. He's a disrupter, an occupier. He makes players better around him.

That's why Sunday's game -- and next week's match againstthe Chiefs in the Super Bowl -- was on Vea's mind throughout his rehab. Vea maintained his focus.

“I don’t think it was that hard, honestly," Vea said. "I’ve got a good group of people around me – I had my family and friends in my ear the whole time [along with] my teammates over here. I stayed over here [and] I stayed in meetings. I was coming to position meetings, defensive meetings and stuff like that. I think that just helped me stay locked into football, really keep my mind off the injury and focus on learning more about football.”

For the Bucs' defense, it has been an up and down season. But the team seems to be playing well at the most important time. With them playing well, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles seems on top of his game.

“I think there’s a lot that goes into it," Vea said. "I think we’re all on the same page. I think that’s the key part. With us and each position group, I think everyone is tighter within their groups and closer with everybody on that defense that we’re able to work well together. Also, Coach Bowles brings a lot to the table with all the different defenses he has for us. It’s really set up for everyone to make plays and I think that’s what has really helped for everybody.”

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