Rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander is making the Tampa Bay Buccaneers front office look awfully good.
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht can pound their chests when pointing to this year's fourth-round pick, who is turning into a steal,
After one preseason game the LSU product will start at middle linebacker, which is no small thing for the Tampa 2 Defense. The guy in that role calls the plays for the defense and is expected keep everyone in line.
Alexander unseats free-agent acquisition Bruce Carter, who the Bucs were raving about when they acquired him this year.
After dropping to second team, Carter has been moved to outside linebacker, where he will battle Danny Lansanah for playing time.
"We are not going to put anybody out there we don't feel comfortable playing," Smith said. "Kwon has done everything we asked him to do. He is a rookie and there are a lot of plays he needs to see and step two coming up."
Gerald McCoy, the godfather of the Bucs defense, said he hadn't seen a linebacker run like Alexander since All-Pro Lavonte David arrived.
Alexander has the toughness, speed and athleticism you need to play middle linebacker in Smith's scheme. You need to cover receivers and come up quickly to stop the run, a mixture of skills that not every linebacker possesses.
"We've been talking about him for quite a while really," Smith said. "What happens when you make plays? You get an opportunity to to get more plays. We are very pleased with what he has done as a rookie. He is doing some things to make us notice."
After the way Licht botched last year's free agencies Alexander could be a savior for him. If Carter failed to measure up it would be another indication that the Bucs' GM falls short in the evaluation department. On the flip side, getting a productive fourth-rounder to start brings the words genius to mind.
Alexander is just happy to be getting his chance. He doesn't care whether it's at middle or outside linebacker.
"I can play either one. Wherever coach wants me to play," Alexander said, "The middle is harder because you are the key of the defense. You've got to call everything out so everybody knows their roles. Just talking is the key to the defense."
Alexander's quick adjustments are even more impressive because he never played middle linebacker until now. He got his reps at middle linebacker when the Bucs were in their nickel package and was so impressive the coaches wanted to give him more time there.
"He has really good range and is versatile. He is a smart kid and has a great understanding of the game," said linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson, who knows a few things about the position.
Alexander started as a freshman at strong side, and LSU moved him to the weak side as a sophomore. He led the Tigers in tackles as a junior.
Smith said he has no qualms about having Alexander start against Cincinnati Monday night in the Bucs' second preseason game. The Bucs were 0-8 last year at Raymond James Stadium and have lost nine straight regular-season home games.
"It's good to play a football team like that and realize we haven't won a home game around here in a long time," Smith said.
Smith said the starters would play at least into the second quarter.
Bucs quarterback coach Mike Bajakian said he wants to see rookie quarterback Jameis Winston continue to make progress.
"He bounced back after throwing an interception last week (against Minnesota), and this time we want to see progress and make some of the throws that he missed," Bajakian said. "We want to see him on the same page with our wide receivers and tight ends and continue to make progress in the management of the offense. Going uptempo and no huddle is not a problem for him because he can process information quickly."
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.