Geno Hayes, Barrett Ruud, and Quincy Blackhave been steadily producing for the first contests, and that obviously needs to continue. Whether the concern is bringing pressure, which they need to regain desperately after Pittsburgh, or locking receivers down in coverage, the corps is expected to grow and flourish in order to beat the better offenses that they will see throughout the course of the season.
Compared to last season the majority of the team is undoubtedly better. The offense is scoring, and the defense isn't giving up forty points the majority of the time. Focusing on the linebackers, though, the two youths on the outside are vastly improved. The quality of their chemistry is directly proportional to the individual performances that have progressed.
Hayes is better on the weak side. He shows instincts by shooting the gap and hasn't over-pursued nearly as often as he was doing in 2009. Moreover, he is wrapping up and bringing down ball carriers as he showed he was capable toward the latter half of last season. Hayes plays well against the run but must continue to contain and bring down the ball carrier while worrying about tight ends and slot receivers racing around him; a great deal to ask of anyone. Though his coverage hasn't looked as sloppy thus far, that part of his game will have to be elevated.
Black took a game to warm up, yet in his past two he has made his presence known. I hope his splash plays continue to show up as they are indicative of his learning. His pick against Pittsburgh should be lauded for keeping a low profile and a heightened awareness, though the game was essentially out of reach. Against Carolina he looked like a maniac while bringing down runners and crippling Matt Moore for a clutch third down sack. With the defense only having 4 sacks so far it's of paramount importance that Black stays involved in the blitzing game while maintaining his effectiveness. Last season he was able to get his hand on a lot of passes to deflect them. I'm very interested to see whether those will translate to interceptions this time around as Black is grasping more of the game by the week.
As he should be, Ruud is amassing tackles to hold the team lead. While having his share of difference making plays throughout his time as a starter he'll need to make more of them. Forcing a fumble against Cleveland doesn't credit him the game ball for the win, yet it would be remiss to deny its timely significance. That is the kind of football fans like to see from Ruud, making loads of tackles and influencing backs to put the ball on the ground. Refusing to believe that Godlike interception against the Bears was an anomaly, I expect Ruud to start picking off more passes and get a sack or two by seasons end with better players in front of him.
Most of the starters on the defensive line are inexperienced, and while their performance is sure to excite down the line, the linebackers are going to be relied upon to clean up some of their messes in the running game. This could lead to blown assignments when the ball goes into the air, and games being out of reach rapidly. Should the linebackers keep the energy and efficacy high, the entire squad will be a joy to watch as they get closer to establishing the renown Tampa defense.