TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has been one of the most explosive and energetic players on the team, impacting games in many different ways since Tampa Bay drafted him in 2020.

They moved him around in the secondary last season, but this year the plan is to return him to free safety – something he says isn’t a huge change, but he’s excited about.

“I would say it’s similar to what I was doing last year,” Winfield Jr. said. “It’s just I’ll probably be in the middle of the field more. So, I like having that freedom to roam around and be in the middle of the field and have that presence all over.” 

Earlier this offseason, Bucs’ safeties coach Nick Rapone explained how this came about, wanting to put Winfield Jr. in a position to play more man coverage. 

“When you play nickel, you have to play man,” Rapone said. “You have to play zone. You have to work stacks in man. You have to work bunches in man. And that’s why you see most guys in the NFL are corners because what we do in practice is all adjustments. So, it’s hard to get Antoine all that man work that he needed. So [head coach] Todd [Bowles] and him made the decision what’s best moving forward – ‘let’s move you back, let’s take you out of the nickel.’ […] What that job description is, yeah there wasn’t enough time to do all the adjustments and then get him enough man work.” 

With that, the hope is for Winfield Jr. to be able to contribute more in the takeaway department. He had four interceptions in his first three seasons in the league, with one last year, and agrees this move will put him in a better position to get those numbers up. 

“Yeah, 100 percent because I’m more in the middle of the field.” Winfield Jr. said. “I’m able to play around and cover different things a little differently than playing in the slot over slot receivers, so definitely.” 

For the defense as a whole, it’s all about getting the ball — doing it more and also consistently. In 2022, the Bucs were 26th in the league with just 10 interceptions.

Six came in the first four games and they finished the season with just four in their final eight, including the postseason. They also had a mid-season stretch of six-straight games with no picks. 

“That’s one of the goals that we’ve been trying to get better on each and every year, but especially this year,” Winfield Jr. said. “We’ve got to have more turnovers because that ultimately leads to offense getting more opportunities with the ball and us getting better chances to win the game.”