Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Kwon Alexander: The voices driving the engine powering Tampa Bay's defense

Kwon Alexander hears voices. One is decisive and comes from defensive coordinator Mike Smith as the upcoming play is transmitted to his helmet receiver. That's when he turns and repeats the instructions to his teammates. Then he peers sideline to sideline to dissect the opponent.

When the Bucs were struggling, the lack of communication on defense was identified as a major cause of their problem.

"It starts with him getting the call," safety Keith Tandy said. "At the beginning of the year, Kwon wasn't getting the call on time, so we've added some signals to help out with that.

"It's been key in our turnaround. It started in the meetings. In the meetings we're talking more and it carried into practice and then into the games. Everybody is playing more confident."

Nobody is playing better than Alexander, the 22-year-old middle linebacker from LSU.

His intensity was on full display in Sunday's 26-20 loss at Dallas. Play after play, he exploded from his stance, navigated the tangled mass of bodies and rooted out the ball carrier. His 21 tackles and forced fumble by tight end Jason Witten at the Cowboys 45 put the Bucs in position to win.

Alexander's 97 solo tackles lead the NFL. Throw in three sacks, seven quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception he returned for a touchdown.

"I think you're seeing a player that's really coming into his own," Smith said.

"He's a very emotional player, he plays with a lot of passion and runs extremely well. I think that's probably his best trait, is his ability to run."

Alexander hears another voice in his head, from the time he wakes up until he closes his eyes at night. This one he responds to, holding what might seem like a one-way conversation if you witnessed it.

It's the voice of Lil' Brod, short for Broderick.

Broderick Taylor was weeks from his 18th birthday, at a house party down the street from the family home in Anniston, Ala., on a Friday last season before the Bucs were to play 90 minutes away at Atlanta. Brod got into an altercation with another man, who took out a gun and shot him in the chest.

Alexander, the oldest of four children, was in the team hotel when his mother, Peaches, called to tell him Lil' Brod had been shot. She called back with two words that still haunt him. "He's gone."

Alexander cried all night and hadn't slept when he took the field at the Georgia Dome. He finished with 11 tackles and an interception and ran down Julio Jones from behind, ripping the football out of his hands.

Said Alexander: "I didn't do nothing. He did it all."

The next week at Brod's memorial service, Alexander took his game jersey, the football he intercepted, his gloves and cleats and put it all in his brother's casket. When the Bucs opened this season in Atlanta, his family made the trip. Playing for Brod, Alexander had 17 tackles in a 31-24 win.

Alexander spent much of the offseason in pre-dawn chalk talk meetings with Smith to learn the nuances of the new defense. That habit affirmed the Bucs' decision from a year ago. They trusted the helmet transmitter to a rookie taken in the fourth round.

"I feel like I'm just getting wiser? Can I say wiser?" Alexander said. "I know a lot more now. It's really slowing down to me. At the beginning of the season, I was kind of moving too fast, and now it's all slowing down for me and I'm just keeping it at that pace.

"My eyes, instinct and film study. That's what I'm trusting and I'm going to keep trusting them."

Tandy says the Bucs' defense changed the minute Alexander stepped into the huddle as a rookie.

"I remember last year one game I came in and tried to punch the ball out, and I hit the tight end and kind of fell back," Tandy said. "He started cussing me out during the game for not taking him down. It definitely changed the whole attitude."

A year ago, Alexander was suspended for the final four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The Bucs lost all four games.

Dirk Koetter says it was no coincidence.

"From my viewpoint, that hurt our team a lot, when we didn't have Kwon, the last four (games) last year," said Koetter, then the offensive coordinator, now the Bucs' head coach. "And I think Kwon has taken it upon himself, he's wanted to be out front and be the leader of our defense, he's put the time in.

"A lot of guys that go down that road, they'll start down that road and find out there's a lot of hard work and they'll cool off. He's been persistent and stuck with it."

Funny thing about communication, it has to flow both ways. Messages are sent. Received. Sometimes they arrive through a transmitter in the din of a sold-out football stadium. Sometimes, they crack the silence of your heart.

"He motivates me to get up," Alexander said of Lil' Brod. "I talk to God and I talk to him and I'm energized and ready to be great for the day and be better.

"He's always with me. He's with me right now. I can feel him all the time. I'm getting chills right now."

Kwon Alexander: The voices driving the engine powering Tampa Bay's defense 12/23/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2016 7:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rowdies settle for draw at home

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  2. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  3. Rays journal: Cesar Puello, who has one major-league game, claimed off waivers

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Looking to add punch to their right-handed lineup, the Rays claimed OF Cesar Puello off waivers Saturday from the Angels.

  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Mariners game

    The Heater

    SS Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't always look like he's going hard, but he showed impressive reactions Saturday in reversing field to catch a ball that clanked off the catwalk then firing to second to double up Guillermo Heredia on an attempt to tag up.

  5. Bucs journal: Simeon Rice gives master class on sacks to defensive ends

    Bucs

    TAMPA — As the Bucs seek their first 10-sack season from a player since Simeon Rice in 2005, who better to help that cause than Rice himself?

    Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Simeon Rice works with defensive end Noah Spence (57) after practice at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.