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NFL

Why Buccaneers Defense Could Be Best Iteration Yet

  • Carmen Vitali
  • August 10, 2022
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Joint practices kicked off on Wednesday between the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and it was a welcomed change of pace for an already grueling training camp going against friendly faces. More than a change of pace, joint practices also allow for teams to evaluate themselves a little bit more—and such was the case for the Tampa Bay defense, according to cornerback Carlton Davis.

“Going up against our offense every day, we look good, but you can never really measure yourself too much because we’re going against the same guys every day,” he said. “It gets repetitive. So going up against new competition and being able to still perform and have that chemistry, it just shows how far your guys are with the chemistry and just getting into our season form.”

“I feel like a lot of things changed,” continued linebacker and defensive captain Lavonte David. “A lot of guys have been in the system for four years. The confidence is there and everybody knows what everybody is doing instead of just understanding your job and they’re understanding how offenses are trying to attack us and stuff like that. Everybody is on the same page. This practice is something that we definitely can learn from and we can watch the film and pick out some plays that we could get better at. It’s definitely fun being out there with the guys and competing against another group.”

Things certainly looked different for a Buccaneers defense that already is low on tendencies. Though Todd Bowles moved into the head coach’s office, he is still calling the plays, backed up by his defensive coordinators in Kacy Rodgers and Larry Foote. 

And even with new wrinkles and new pieces, especially in the form of defensive backs Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan, along with defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the cohesion is there. The defense looks like it knows what it’s doing, even if what it’s doing is trying to confuse opponents. 

Both Neal and Ryan are designated as safeties but both were aligned in multiple positions during Wednesday’s practice. The Buccaneers have taken to deploying a three-safety rotation that includes the nickel spot, with Antoine Winfield Jr. (the ball-hawking player that he is) being given opportunities in the slot. It also leant itself to a more bolstered outside corner rotation that’s included Sean Murphy-Bunting, who had previously occupied the nickel spot more often than not—though he was one of the starting outside corners in the Buccaneers’ base formation.

It’s led to a lot of creativity among the back level and it has the players excited.

“I feel like as a group we’ve taken a step,” Davis said. “We’ve taken a step every year since I’ve been here.” 

The back end will also be helped by the solid rotation up front. The interior lost Ndamukong Suh but picked up Hicks in free agency—and as good of a player as Suh was for the defense, Hicks may be an even better fit. Hicks is paired alongside Vita Vea more often than not with Will Gholston on the other side in their base formation and from there it’s a constant rotation of guys like Rakeem Nuñez-Roches, first-round pick Logan Hall (who is as big as advertised), and Pat O’Connor. That leaves the outside guys with a lot of favorable matchups—and could even leave the middle-level guys, like David, and Devin White some more flexibility.

“For me and Devin, we love it,” said David, referring to the front. “We get a chance to basically plug in. Losing [Ndamukong] Suh but then came Hicks and it’s a great deal for us. He’s a veteran guy, knows how to play the game and he’s fit right in just getting a chance to be around him for a couple of weeks. He’s a great dude and he understands the game and he wants to help us win football games so it’s definitely going to be fun playing [behind] him and it’s going to be hard on offenses trying to climb to us as linebackers.”

David, being the director he is, has taken notice of everyone around him and has taken stock of the unit that surrounds him.

“Jamel Dean has had a solid camp, Will Gholston, obviously. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka—he’s a guy that has some big shoes to fill coming in for J.P.P.  (Jason Pierre-Paul),” David said. “And then Carlton (Davis III), he’s picking it up, he’s been really good—having a solid camp. Obviously, Devin (White). Devin is learning from a different aspect of the game now as well. I’m just proud of a lot of guys. Just the way they approach the film room, how they’ve been asking questions and how they’ve been real professional. Mike Edwards—this is his time to shine, so he is stepping up into a big role. (Antoine) Winfield has to play nickel sometimes, he’s basically learning two positions and is doing a great job at it. A lot of guys are just taking on just being the ultimate professionals and I love to see it.”

If this camp iteration of the defense is remotely like what steps on the field come Week 1, Buccaneers fans are going to love to see it, too.

“I feel like this year we’re going to be possibly the best back end,” said Davis. “I said that.”

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Carmen Vitali