TAMPA — NFL scouts and coaches have a nickname for players like Dekoda Watson. Because they don’t quite fit the mold created for any one specific position, they are called “tweeners.’’
Watson, who has the speed and quickness to be a defensive end or an outside linebacker but lacks the size and power to be either, would rather be called a “hybrid.’’ It has a more positive connotation.
So does playmaker. That’s the nickname that might eventually stick to Watson if he turns in a few more games like the one he had for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Sunday’s 41-28 victory against Atlanta.
Taking full advantage of his hybrid role as a situational pass rusher and special teams regular, Watson affected a Matt Ryan pass that linebacker Mason Foster intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and blocked a punt to set up another Bucs touchdown.
“We’re just trying to get the best 11 players on the field, sort of tinkering to get the best combinations out there,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “And, sure enough, he was a key element (on Foster’s interception), so I’m glad he was there.
“And then he obviously made a big play blocking that punt. That was really just a great individual effort, because the (defender) went to cut him and Dekoda avoided the block, then made a tremendous one-handed block.”
The Bucs have grown accustomed to Watson’s great individual efforts on special teams. Tampa Bay leads the league with four blocked punts the past two seasons and Watson has three of them.
When it comes to finding Watson a position on defense, though, the Bucs have been at a loss. The depth chart lists him as the backup strongside linebacker, and he does fill in there, but more often than not he’s used as a rush end on passing downs.
The situation is so confounding that Watson doesn’t even know which position group to work with at practice.
“Heck, I don’t even get to stretch with the linebackers or D ends,’’ Watson said with a laugh. “I’m in my own stretch line. That’s why we have to get a hybrid crew going on right now.
“I really do consider myself (a hybrid) — a guy who can play different positions and different roles. I’ve even been trying to knock on the door at tight end. Hey, whatever I can contribute, I’m more than willing to help.’’
That willingness is one of the things the Bucs like most about Watson. It’s not easy for players to bounce from one spot to another, but Watson has handled it well and the Bucs think he gives them an advantage.
“He allows us to keep the other guys fresh and gives us a different kind of (pass rusher),’’ defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. “If an offensive tackle knows he’s going to play against one or two guys the whole game, he can really study up on those guys and know what their pass rush moves are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. But he poses another kind of a guy that their offensive line, or offensive tackles in particular, are going to have to deal with.”
The tackle that couldn’t quite deal with Watson on Sunday was former Bucs starter Jeremy Trueblood. On first-and-10 from the Atlanta 34-yard line, Watson blew past Trueblood off the left edge and got a hand on Ryan’s arm just as he released his pass.
“To be honest with you, I was mad that I didn’t get the sack initially,’’ Watson said. “But then I went and tried to block for Mason and celebrate with him, but he was too busy running all over the place.
“I don’t know exactly what I tipped, but it wasn’t close enough because I really wanted a sack. At the same time, six points on the board — hey, I was part of it.”