Buccaneers DT Vita Vea shocked a lot of people by returning from what was initially thought to be a season-ending fractured ankle to play in the NFC title game against the Packers. Even though he was not 100 percent and on a snap count, he still made a noticeable impact on a few plays and he has the Chiefs’ attention entering the Super Bowl.
“He’s a guy that you’ve got to know where he’s at every single play,” Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes said via Pro Football Talk. “He obviously is super disruptive in the run game, but he’s just as good as a pass rusher. You don’t see guys like that — playing that position, that can rush the passer like that — that much. For him, he’s a special talent and I’ll have to know where ehe’s at every single play in order to not let him disrupt the entire game.”
- Vea says he’s completely healed: “I think I’m completely healed, otherwise I don’t think I would be playing if I wasn’t.” (PFT)
- Buccaneers RB coach Todd McNair is still involved in a lawsuit against the NCAA from losing his job at USC after being implicated in the situation with Reggie Bush. McNair didn’t land another coaching job from 2010 when USC let him go until Tampa Bay hired him in 2019: “In all honesty, I don’t really talk about that too much. It’s its own situation. I don’t dwell on it too much. But at the same time, I’m going to stand up when I know I’m right.” (Dan Wolken)
- Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown was upgraded to a full participant in practice with his knee injury while TE Cameron Brate was limited with a back injury. (Ian Rapoport)
Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey played in just three games in 2020 thanks to injury, though there was a lot more intrigue from week to week than the final total would suggest. It was a rough season but McCaffrey said there are some positives he can take away from the experience.
“It made me a lot hungrier,” McCaffrey said via Pro Football Talk. “It took me out of my realm for a while to understand how much I love this game. You kinda get that 7-year-old football love back when it’s taken from you. Ultimately, this is something that might add another three, four years to my career. I definitely view it, although negative in the moment, it will be a positive in the long run.”
Saints HC Sean Payton was already pretty familiar with QB Jameis Winston from playing him twice a year in the NFC South. But a year up close with the former Buccaneers passer has had a major impact on Payton’s feelings on Winston, who now is one of New Orleans’ top free-agent priorities to re-sign as a potential successor to Drew Brees.
“Everything from his leadership, his arm strength, his film in Tampa,” Payton said via Pro Football Talk. “His last season, obviously he had a ton of turnovers, but there are so many things I think he does well. Often times, coaches can be guilty of [saying] ‘here’s what he doesn’t do well,’ and we harp on those things. Our job will be to really highlight and try to do the things that our players do extremely well. It’s amazing how someone can be in your division and you might think you know the player to some degree and obviously you don’t have the same intimate knowledge relative to personally learning. Then when he’s in your building, maybe how different a guy is. He was a fantastic leader for our team. Very supportive and loyal in that room. I think close with the quarterbacks. Coming in just his first year, I think he endeared himself to his teammates. He’s a tremendous worker and he’s got a ton of talent. He made a great impression on us.”
Payton also talked up the other contender to replace Brees, Saints QB and jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill, who started four games at quarterback late in the season.
“I thought he had a fantastic season,” Payton said. “Not just when he was in [the quarterback] role, but he’s one of our better football players, period. He’s explosive. There’s a physicality that he brings when he’s in the lineup, either at quarterback or running back or in a receiving mode.”