If you’ve followed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at any point over the last few years, then you should know how bad it’s been on the defensive side of the ball.
According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs have finished in the top half of their defensive DVOA rankings just twice since 2010. They finished dead last in 2017 and 2018, making them the only team to accomplish that feat since the 2008-2009 Detroit Lions.
Yep, the Bucs are setting new records - just not the right ones.
Things really took a turn for the worse over the past three years. Outside of a five game stretch in 2016, Tampa Bay has been downright terrible in every facet.
A lot of that had to do with a confusing, ineffective scheme that didn’t take advantage of its players’ strengths. Coaching is extremely important in the NFL and without it there isn’t much room for success.
Over the years, the defensive coaching around this franchise has been questionable at best. Fixing that aspect was the first step toward getting this unit back to a decent level of respectability and Tampa Bay seems like it has figured that part out with the hiring of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
But that’s not the end of it. Having the right players is also a major part of the equation and Bowles know this.
“It goes hand in hand,” Bowles told the media at One Buc Place on Wednesday. “Like I tell my rookies - like I tell them all every year, some rookies go to the Super Bowl. On one of these 32 teams somebody’s going to the Super Bowl, so it doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are, it’s a combination of coaching and talent. It goes hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other, so we’re going to coach these guys up the best we can. We’re going to get them to play hard and we’re going to play tough.”
Tampa Bay possess a talented defense thanks to the team’s struggles over the past decade. There are five first round picks on that side of the ball, three of them being top-10 selections. When you add in the three All-Pro selections and nine Pro Bowls, it becomes clear that this unit does have some pieces to build around.
Bowles intends to build around said pieces, utilizing his players’ strengths. One way of doing so is not forcing players into a scheme that doesn’t fit what they can do best.
In other words, this defense is going to be versatile, which is a trait that has been absent lately.
“There’s no set way that we’re going to play this defense,” Bowles told reporters. “Obviously, we’re going to look and see how we can take people away, but at the same time we’re going to be smart about what we do and how we do it.”
More importantly, Bowles knows the game is changing and is willing to adapt to said changes. He knows the game is faster and is more spread out. In order for him to get the results he wants, it was clear the Bucs needed to pick up the pace on defense.
“We wanted more speed, but it had nothing to do from the films from last year. We just needed more speed.”
“The game has gotten a lot faster, especially out on the perimeter and the edge where you don’t see as much power running,” Bowles explained at the podium. “So, there’s a lot of things out on the perimeter where you need a lot of faster guys.”
He backed that up by drafting Devin White with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The former LSU Tiger is as fast as they come. He ran a 4.42 at the combine, which tied for the fastest time out of all inside linebackers over the last 20 years.
This line of thinking has to be encouraging for both fans and players alike. It feels like the Bucs have been lethargic at best when adapting to the new NFL and everyone is waiting for a return to the defensive glory days of the past.
And speaking of the past, that’s also one of the most exciting parts of this change. The Bucs have basically run the same type of defense since 1995. Even though there will still be a lot of four-down formations, there has to be a ton of excitement to see the 3-4 - well, at least a good chunk of it - ran in Tampa Bay.
Change is a good thing when it is embraced in the right way and these days, the Bucs need all the change they can get.