I already know what you’re thinking.
“Evan, this secondary was on pace to be the worst pass defense in NFL history last season and was ranked dead last in the 2017, we have had enough patience with this group.”
Trust me, I get it. I am in the same boat when it comes to evaluating this unit’s performance over the past couple of seasons.
It’s a pretty simple conclusion: they sucked.
But there are a lot more factors that come into play when it comes to the product displayed on the field and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary hasn’t had much luck lately.
Whether it be injuries, bad scheme, or bad coaching - everything that is supposed to help a player in the NFL become an effective player was absent in Tampa Bay over the past two years.
Mike Smith’s dogshit off-man coverage scheme was not only abhorrent, but it didn’t play to most of the secondary’s strengths. Players like Carlton Davis III and Vernon Hargreaves III are best when playing press coverage, not sitting seven yards off the line. M.J. Stewart should’ve been playing safety, not in the slot. Brent Grimes should’ve been launched into the sun midway during the 2018 season.
And to add injury to insult - literally - Hargreaves has missed the past year and a half due to injury, while Stewart missed half of his rookie season dealing with injuries. Justin Evans missed six games in 2018 as well.
Everywhere you looked, there was some type of issue always clouding the defensive backfield.
Heading into the 2019 season, a lot of the players from last year’s roster still remain on the team.
While that could easily scare most fans, there is a very good chance this unit could turn into a solid group by year’s end.
It’s not like this a collection of JAGs. Hargreaves was graded as a potential Pro Bowl player at the combine, Davis was graded as an instant starter, and the combo of Stewart and Justin Evans both graded out as having a “chance” to become an NFL starter - one rung below the instant starter grading bracket.
Those four players are enough to make up a solid core, leaving the Bucs with an opportunity to add another player through free agency (unlikely) or the draft.
This coaching staff already knows what these guys are good at and are going to play to their strengths, unlike the previous staff.
Arians on Bucs' improved secondary: "I think what we're going to do with them is going to be more advantageous to them. Get up. I've got you. Beat my ass. We're not sitting back, read-and-reacting. … We'll get in your face, play man-to-man and get after it."— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 26, 2019
Another example of this would be the move of Stewart to safety, a position that seems to suit his skill set much better than what the staff had him doing last year, which was playing the role of a walking piece of toast.
#Bucs GM Jason Licht said position changes are coming for MJ Stewart, who will play SS and FS, Caleb Benenoch moving to RT.— PewterReport (@PewterReport) February 27, 2019
That will leave the team with a need at nickel, which Arians admitted recently as well. Apparently the Bucs offered former New York Jet Mo Claiborne the veteran minimum on Wednesday. While that deal is laughable considering his recent play and the fact that he won’t take a $6.2 million pay cut after making $7 million last season, it’d be nice to see the Bucs land a proven corner to take some pressure off of the youngsters.
But outside of adding an inside corner and maybe some depth players, it’s OK if the Bucs take a flier on this position heading into 2019.
If the new staff can tap into the potential that is currently available, then the sky is the limit for the young group.
Have trust. Have faith. And if it doesn’t work this year, then it’s time to move on, but hopefully we don’t reach that point.