TAMPA, Fla. -- With 16 seconds on the clock in the first half, one timeout remaining and the Tennessee Titans trying to get within scoring range in the second preseason game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka lunged forward -- quickly swiping the arm of right tackle Dillon Radunz with a cross chop -- before diving at the waist of quarterback Matt Barkley.
It was his first NFL sack -- resulting in a 10-yard loss, but that really should have come in the first preseason game the week before, against the Cincinnati Bengals. Officials admitted they flubbed on an unnecessary roughness call when he clobbered Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen.
But Tryon-Shoyinka’s work wasn’t done against Tennessee. On third-and-13, with 13 seconds on the clock, he put his hand in the dirt, burst off the line of scrimmage in just 0.46 seconds and bull-rushed Radunz flat onto his back, holding the Titans to a very long 58-yard field goal.
Coach Bruce Arians joked afterward, “I don’t have to say any more about Joe. He does what he does.”
And what he does right now in his first NFL action excites the Buccaneers, a team that at times last season, had a ferocious pass rush with Devin White, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea but also struggled with consistent pressure on every snap and gave up big plays downfield, which is what happened in losses against the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bucs had 48 sacks last season (tied for fourth-most in the NFL) and their pass rush win rate was 49%, fifth-most in the NFL. But they also surrendered a 69% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks (fourth-most in the NFL) and their pressure percentage was 31.1%, 11th in the NFL.
“Joe is going to be amazing. He’s doing stuff that I’m looking at and thinking, ‘Man, I wish I would of knew that when I was a rookie,’” Pierre-Paul said. “He’s doing amazing stuff out there. ... I told Shaq, ‘He’s going to be the difference-maker for us.’ He’s been moving since Day 1 when he got here. From there to now, he’s been moving tremendously. He just has to stay on his feet. I had that problem myself.”
They didn’t bring him in to start right away, but to be part of a rotation with Barrett, 28, and Pierre-Paul, 32. He’ll get in mostly in passing situations, which is his strength at this point. He'll also, as Arians put it, “Play his ass off on special teams” -- an area the Bucs vowed to improve on for 2021.
“The game will depend. If it's a running game, a running team, maybe not as much. If it's a passing situation, he's going to play a bunch. There's situations where I could see in the future, down the road, where we have all three of them out there," Arians said, referring to Barrett, Pierre-Paul and Tryon-Shoyinka.
In college, Tryon-Shoyinka would get tied up with blockers in the run game. But defensive end Will Gholston believes Tryon-Shoyinka is more than capable of stopping the run.
“With that size, versatility, speed, you see the wiggle, you see the bend like his knees touching the ground when he’s running. So I think he can be versatile at both,” Gholston said. “I wouldn’t label him just as a pass-rusher, for sure.”
Defensive end Pat O’Connor added, “He’s a beast. He’s a monster. I think he’s gonna be a great asset to our team in all aspects.”
Tryon-Shoyinka has a vast toolbox of moves -- a bull rush, a cross chop he used on both his sacks, an inside swim move, a dip/rip and a long-arm move, and having success with them already at the next level.
Matchups will play a big part in how much he’s utilized too. Tryon-Shoyinka’s 6-foot-5 frame with 34-inch arms give him good leverage on blockers (by comparison, Pierre-Paul’s arms are 34 3/4) and keeping himself clean -- even against guys like right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who established himself as one of the top right tackles in the league last season as a rookie.
“Joe is a really good player -- he’s got a lot of juice, a lot of energy, plays with a lot of leverage,” Wirfs said. “I mean he’s got long arms, he’s fast -- you don’t see a lot of people that are built like him. He’s tough to handle sometimes.”
“He comes off the ball so fast,” Wirfs said. “In certain situations, like if I’m getting my eyes out to him late -- if I’m in a shift or something -- he gets his hands on me first, you really have to throw your feet back and sit down, and sometimes it’s harder to recover from it. Like Anthony Nelson, he’s got really long arms too -- that’s always tough to deal with.”
Tight end O.J. Howard, who has gone up against Tryon-Shoyinka in practice, has seen it too.
“[He’s] explosive, very athletic. We saw what he can do in the game,” Howard said. “He’s going to be very hard to stop off the edge. I think he’s going to make a lot of noise.”
Right now, Tryon-Shoyinka is getting a lot of work covering kicks and punts. Defensively, the majority of his reps have come with the second-team defense and he’s gotten work lining up mostly on the left side, but he's capable of playing both sides. He continues to refine his technique after being away from football for a year, as he opted out for 2020, instead choosing to focus on training, which has served him well, according to his teammates.
“He’s fast … have you seen him?" O'Connor said. "He’s got like a 12-pack. He has a really good instinct for the game. He’s able to pick up stuff, see things that other people can’t, and just be able to zone in on that. His pass rush is great. He’s great at stopping the run, a physical player. Yeah … look at him. Most people can’t look like that.”