TAMPA — Robert Ayers began the offseason calling the Bucs defense ''terrible,'' as players were learning the new system under defensive coordinator Mike Smith. So how much improvement does the Giants free agent think his new team has made as mandatory minicamp wraps up?
"We're a little less terrible," Ayers said Wednesday. "We're getting better, and that's all we can ask for. We're trying to get to the end of the tunnel, so each day is a day to get better, a day to prepare, a day for me and my guys to get to know each other better and grow as a unit and build a chemistry.
"The reason I say we're terrible is because we're not where we need to be. So for me, it's 100 percent or nothing, and if you're not 100 percent, you're terrible. You're either first or you're last. And right now, we're not where we want to be, and that's why I say we're terrible. I want to get to the big game, I want to win and that's all I care about. So until we win, we're terrible."
Ayers, who had a career-high nine sacks last season for the Giants in only 12 games last season, has bounced around from left and right defensive end and defensive tackle during the offseason trying to define his role.
"It's just a matter of showing coach what I can do and him seeing what we all can do and then it's up to (Smith) to figure out which is the better situation," Ayers said.
Even before he joined the Bucs, Ayers, 30, said he believed Tampa Bay was a team on the rise.
"I feel like we can compete," Ayers said Wednesday. "I'm not just saying that because I'm here now, but from the outside looking in, I always thought Tampa (Bay) man, they're right there. We've got some guys. The big three on offense, one of the best defensive tackles in the game with Gerald (McCoy); Clinton (McDonald), who's been an underrated dog; Jacquies (Smith), who got hurt last year but talking about pass rush, that guy was beasting until he got hurt. Noah (Spence) can play. Howard (Jones) is super fast out there. Kourtnei Brown. Akeem (Spence). There's some talent, man. We've just got to do what we need to do, work to get better and I feel like we can kick anybody's (butt). "
GOOD DAY FOR BELL: WR Kenny Bell had to play a little catch-up this season after the 2015 fifth-round pick from Nebraska spent his rookie year on injured reserve. But with Vincent Jackson taking some days off and Louis Murphy returning from a torn ACL, Bell has taken advantage of the extra work.
On Wednesday, Bell kept showing up in the end zone during red zone drills, catching several touchdowns including two from QB Ryan Griffin.
"Kenny definitely had a good day today and a couple really nice throws there in the red zone from Griff (Griffin)," coach Dirk Koetter said. "If you were out here enough, every guy has his ups and downs, has his good days and bad days, and Kenny certainly made a couple plays."
Bell brings an element of speed the receiving corps lacked recently. He runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. But speed receivers don't play much unless they can handle the tight windows and collisions in the red zone. "Kenny has a little extra gear that some other guys don't have," Koetter said. "And today that showed up."
OFFICIALLY DIFFERENT: In two seasons under Lovie Smith, the Bucs didn't practice with the use of officials. But last season, the team's 143 penalties tied with Buffalo for the most in the league and the 1,195 penalty yards ranked second.
That's why Koetter says the team will use officials in practice as they have during minicamp. "I do feel like having officials on the field helps reinforce the fact that there is a consequence for some things we do," he said.
CUT FOR KIDS: The team donated $40,000 to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation — including $7,500 from McCoy — from the team's annual "Cut For A Cure" campaign, which saw dozens of Bucs players and staff shave their heads to fund pediatric cancer research.
"This is nothing," McCoy said, pointing to the beard he had trimmed off, "compared to what they deal with. This is really an honor for us. We really, truly love you guys. … Thank you for letting the Bucs be a part of this."
The players participating also included QB Jameis Winston, OT Donovan Smith, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and G Ali Marpet, as well as Bucs COO Brian Ford. The team's donation was up from $30,000 raised in the same event last year.
To learn more or donate, visit nationalPCF.org.
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.