Bucs fans may still be tempted, but there's no need to tell Mike Smith how disappointing Tampa Bay's defense — last in the NFL in sacks, last in passing yards allowed — was last season.
"It's got to be a hell of a lot better than what we put out there last year," Smith said Wednesday, asked how much better his defense must be. "I've said it many times. The numbers are not anywhere close to what we've got to do. We've got to be more consistent in everything we do, and it starts in the meeting rooms, in building trust with one another across the board. That's the most important thing."
The Bucs have helped Smith out by addressing the defense extensively in the offseason, first in signing end Vinny Curry and tackles Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein, then trading a third-round pick to get Pro Bowl end Jason Pierre-Paul.
In the draft, three of the first four picks were on defense, with defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round and cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis in the second round, plus two more defensive draft picks.
The upgraded line, with better depth allowing key players to take fewer snaps and have more left for the end of close games, is the catalyst for an improved defense. Smith hopes that allows his linebackers to come free more often to make plays, and that the added pressure on opposing quarterbacks will help his defensive secondary as well.
Smith said he was encouraged by how his defense continued to fight last year, through injuries and two five-game losing streaks, and that speaks to the character of the players he's counting on to turn things around.
"The way that we played, how poorly we played, to show some resiliency at the end, that says at the core that we have some really strong-willed football players," Smith said. "I think we've added guys that are strong-willed into the defensive meeting room, and they're also better football players."