On the first play of Friday's 16-10 preseason loss to Jacksonville, Bucs DT Gerald McCoy knifed into the backfield and dumped RB Jordan Todman for a 5-yard loss.
Two plays later, on third and 10, he hit QB Chad Henne as he was forced to check the ball down to Todman, who was tackled by LB Lavonte David after a 6-yard gain.
There is a lot of concern about the offensive line — and rightfully so. But if there is one thing that should keep coach Lovie Smith from counting ceiling tiles at night, it's knowing he has a defense that could be as dominant as any in the league.
"There were a lot of encouraging points. You have to look at the way we started the game," Smith said. "We chose to defer (the kickoff); wanted our defense to play first. Gerald McCoy, the best player on our team, was that and played that way right away. Lavonte David, a lot of guys on the defensive side that you expected to play well, did.
"It was good to get some of our young corners active while we were out there. Johnthan Banks played well. Rashaan Melvin, coming off (an ankle injury), played good ball. Major Wright (did, too). So defensively, there was some good play."
The addition of DT Clinton McDonald and DE Michael Johnson should make life easier for McCoy. It's a pick-your-poison line that includes another first-round pick in DE Adrian Clayborn.
How suffocating was the defense Friday? Consider the Jaguars' first-half possessions ended: punt, punt, punt, downs, punt and punt.
The Bucs also got contributions off the bench, including three tackles (one for a loss) and a pass defensed by DL Da'Quan Bowers.
"Pleased; he did some good things," Smith said of Bowers. "As I talked about, let's not get too alarmed by some of our play inside at the guard position (and) you can't get too high on what happened with some of the better plays. Everybody had flashes. Da'Quan has had flashes throughout. And we had that with a few other players."
The team finished 17th in the NFL in defense last season at 348 yards per game. Returning to the Tampa 2 under Smith should enable it to crack the top 10 — or possibly top five — if everything falls into place.
RB DEPTH: Bobby Rainey was the second tailback Friday and ran for a team-high 25 yards on six carries. He also fielded a punt (a fair catch), downed a punt on the 2 and was the personal protector for P Michael Koenen.
Special teams will secure Rainey's spot on the roster, but don't be surprised if rookie Charles Sims emerges as the No. 2 tailback to Doug Martin.
INJURIES: No update on the status of rookie WR Robert Herron, who injured his shoulder Friday. But Smith said, "We think he'll be okay."
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow @NFLStroud.