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Buccaneers’ young defensive backs making plays in OTAs

It’s still early, but it sounds like Tampa Bay’s rookie defenders are already progressing.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers have been horrendous at defending the pass in the last few years, which is a big reason why their 2019 NFL Draft involved a lot of picks in the secondary.

Yes, it’s May, so everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But from the early indications out of Tampa Bay’s OTA practices, it seems like the team’s young secondary is rising to the occasion and making plays. After Tuesday’s practice, head coach Bruce Arians had this to say about what the young group has been able to do in the last couple of weeks:

“[Jamel] Dean had a game winning interception right there at the end of practice, so all those guys are getting their hands on balls. I think 95 percent of our turnovers have come from rookies in practice and they’re going against our best guys. Vernon [Hargreaves] fell into one the other day and he dropped a pick-six today, which I’m still talking to him about, but you can’t drop touchdowns. Those young guys, they’re making plays.”

Jamel Dean, the Bucs’ first pick of the third round, got the first shout of praise from Arians, which has become common throughout OTAs so far. Dean, as well as fellow rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards, have been talked about quite a bit in the last few weeks. That’s a good sign, though there’s still a long way to go before those guys get their first NFL snaps this fall.

In the latter part of Arians’ quote, he talks about another young corner, though that young corner has been around since 2016. It’s easy to forget that Vernon Hargreaves III is only 23. He turns 24 next week, but that’s still very young. So, it’s good to hear that he is progressing and getting his hands on the ball during OTAs. An injury cost him all of 2018, so he’s getting a shot in 2019 to prove that he deserves to be around for the long haul. Regardless of whatever happened at the start of OTAs between Hargreaves and Arians, it sounds like he is out there making plays.

Of course, the more playmakers there are for the Bucs, the better off the defense should be. From the looks and sounds of it, guys in the secondary will be put in positions to make plays in Todd Bowles’ scheme. Quarterback Jameis Winston even mentioned Tuesday that the defensive backs are attacking under Bowles:

We’ve heard a lot about how the defense as a whole will be in “attack mode” with this new scheme. Being asked to play an attacking role should suit Hargreaves well, and so far, it seems like the rookies are plenty comfortable with the positions they’re being put in. Only time will tell if that can continue, of course. Come time for training camp and the preseason in August, we should get a much better idea of what the group will be able to do.

A lot is going to be asked of this young secondary in 2019. With Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined and the unknown of what Ndamukong Suh will bring at 32 years old, there’s increased pressure on the secondary. With Tampa Bay being in a division that features a legend in Drew Brees and former NFL MVPs in Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, there’s increased pressure on the secondary. Considering how much draft capital has been spent on the group in recent years, there’s increased pressure on the secondary. That’s a lot of pressure.

Can that pressure be handled?