We all know the story by now. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been putrid on defense for almost over a decade, outside of a couple seasons.
Dreadful performance after dreadful performance not only cost the team wins, but the performances were an absolute punch in the gut for a franchise that built its reputation on destroying opposing offenses for the better part of a decade.
Just about every recent offseason has centered around how the unit can, could, would, or should improve - yet nothing really changed.
But with the hiring of Todd Bowles, there’s a potential light at the end of the tunnel. And even though Bowles’ presence centers the conversation around the defense for another offseason, there’s a different tune when it comes what to expect, especially now that training camp has begun.
The secondary has looked like the second-coming of Genghis Khan and the Mongolians, destroying everything in sight, dominating the offense, and simply making play after play on the ball. While it’s only the third day of camp, this type of consistent (so far) performance has been the talk of camp.
The position group doesn’t bear the sole responsibility for the lack of success on defense, but it’s certainly been the main culprit over the past few years. It also hasn’t been just the secondary, however, both the first and second levels have made plays as well.
But can the Buccaneers become a better defense in 2019?
“I think we are (a better defense).” second-year cornerback Carlton Davis III said during Monday morning’s media availability.
That type of confidence is exactly what the secondary - and the entire defense - needs. The Bucs’ defense was on pace to be the worst defense in NFL history at one point in 2018 and had one interception through the first ten games. Opposing offenses routinely moved up and down the field at will with little resistance, leaving the Bucs’ offense to try and pick up the pieces.
But Davis’ statement isn’t just your usual NFL confidence. Bowles, along with his position coach Kevin Ross are big reasons why he - and his teammates - feel like 2019 can represent a big jump in terms of on-the-field performance.
“For whatever reason why, the schemes last year just didn’t work, but I feel like this year our players are a lot more comfortable with the schemes we have. Right now, I feel like it fits us better as a defense and our personnel,” he said when asked why he thinks the defense is already better than last year. “Practicing through the spring and even right now in camp, I can tell our guys are a lot more comfortable and that we are a lot more motivated because we are able to be ourselves and play in a scheme that really fits us.”
Sometimes a dose of humility helps, as well. Davis explained how last year’s struggles may have actually helped more than they hurt, but at the same time, there’s a new dawn on the horizon and it’s time to forget about last season.
“Playing on a defense where you guys aren’t really getting the job done is never a good feeling. But moving forward, I feel as if we’ve learned from our mistakes last year and we have a chance to grow. Last year’s struggles is last year and I feel that’s it made us a better defense and that we learned from our mistakes. Moving forward, we just want to show the league that we are a better defense this year.”
Both Bowles and Ross are what you would call “hands-on” and “player-centric”. Not only do they coach, but they also connect with their players, which is something that doesn’t happen as often as you’d think.
When you have that type of connection between a staff and its players, good things are bound to happen. How soon that develops is unknown, but according to Davis, the initial impact of those connections can really establish a sense of trust among both parties.
“It helps me tremendously, having him (Kevin Ross) played the position and not only played it, but at a high level. It really allows you to trust him and trust everything that he says, because he’s done it before, he’s seen it before and with his coaching his experience, he’s seen it time after time. And he’s coached some of the best. So, it’s really easy to have a guy like that come into the room and you just, you know, trust him. Just besides from being a good coach, he’s a really good person. It’s easy to coach somebody but it’s not easy to like, connect with somebody as a player. I think he does a really good job of not only coaching us, but connecting with us as people and that allows you to trust your players a lot more.”
And that type of trust has shown through early in camp. Everyone that was watched practice has taken note of what they’re doing right now, especially the offense, which has been at the forefront of everything.
Bruce Arians even mentioned how pleased he was with the defense after Sunday’s practice. So far, it all seems to working in the Bucs’ favor.
Which is not an experience that has been common recently, but with this staff, that may change sooner rather than later.