RENTON — He was labeled a “freak” at Washington, about the highest compliment awarded to a 347-pound college defensive tackle.
In his second season in the NFL, Vita Vea is already getting similarly scary regards as a fixture in the middle of a Tampa Bay defensive line that ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run.
“Vita is a monster of a guy in there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “and we know that (Ndamukong) Suh has always been a terror. It’s a challenge for all of our guys. They start from inside out in the running game defense, and it’s a very, very strong part of their football team.”
Tamp Bay (2-5) will play its first game at CenturyLink Field since 2013 on Sunday, marking Vea’s first game in Seattle since being selected in the first round (No. 12 overall) last year.
“What a great kid — nasty, powerful,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s really becoming a heck of a pass rusher too. I think everybody may have thought of him as a run stopper, but man is he athletic. I think the sky is the limit for him.”
The Buccaneers boast the league’s top rushing defense, allowing just 68.6 yards per game and 3.0 yards per rush. That makes Sunday’s matchup particularly intriguing against the Seahawks, who average 130 yards per game on the ground (No. 9 in the NFL).
The catch: Tampa Bay ranks as the second-worst passing defense in the NFL (allowing 285.9 yards per game) and third-worst scoring defense (30.3 points per game).
“The guys bought into the change in the system. That’s where we’re going to start,” Arians said. “We’re going to run the ball on offense, and we’re going to stop the run on defense. We just have got to do a better job of stopping the pass now.”