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Tampa Bay Buccaneers still need to repair their defense

The smell is almost gone. The sun is nearly visible. Soon, the buzzards may disperse.

Ah, isn't progress grand?

When you remind yourself that the Bucs haven't won a football game in 160 days, things are going along swimmingly. At a time of year when the franchise usually hibernates, Tampa Bay is spending money and making good choices, and in general, the buzz is surprisingly good.

But, um, what about the defense?

All in all, we seem to love the signing of Vincent Jackson, and we seem to like very much the signing of Carl Nicks, and we mostly feel okay about the signing of Eric Wright. At this point no one really knows if new coach Greg Schiano is going to be a success, but he at least has enough presence to restore order in the locker room, which is a start.

Then again, there is the defense.

Let's go this far. If there was such a thing as winning an offseason, the Bucs would have a rare lead in that pursuit. Certainly they have closed the gap with the recently woodshedded Saints, and they are probably closer to the Falcons, who have lost both coordinators in the offseason.

Still, there is a lot of work to be done.

And did I mention the defense?

Frankly, this is not as much a criticism of what the Bucs have done as a reminder of how dreadful they were last season. I imagine when Schiano watched the tapes for the first time, he thought it was the scariest horror movie ever. The Amityville Chainsaw Exorcism, or something like that. Even a hardened coach would have to watch it through his fingers.

Just to refresh, the Bucs gave up more points than any team in the league last year, and more yards, and more runs of 20 yards or more. They were last in sacks and 29th in opposing quarterback rating, and every time the opponent ran the ball, it gained 5 yards.

(This column will now pause so the reader may scream at the memory of it. Thank you.)

I know, I know. Teams aren't rebuilt in a day (or even a month), and the shopping isn't over, and you have to figure the Bucs, too, remember how many ballcarriers they chased across a goal line last year. Eventually you have to figure reinforcements are coming. Don't you?

After all, the Bucs play in the NFC South, which means they get two games against Drew Brees and two against Matt Ryan and two against Cam Newton. Think of it like this: In their past four games against division opponents last year, the Bucs surrendered 158 points.

Just wondering: Did the Bucs even need a punt returner in those games?

Better question: Did they even have a linebacker?

The point is that there is a limit on just how much better you can feel about the Bucs until they do a lot more work on the defense. Schiano, a defensive coach by nature, has to know this. So does Butch Davis, his defensive consultant. So does Bill Sheridan, his defensive coordinator. I'm sure they also know this: It's easier to find linebackers and safeties in March than it is in October.

Now that the Bucs have found their wallets, why haven't they added more help for the defense?

Perhaps it is this: Every year, there are two phases of free agency. One is for the high-impact, high-priced guys. Two is for the guys who think they are the high-impact, high-priced guys but really aren't. At this point, the NFL is pretty much done with the first phase. Now the Bucs have to wait for reality to hit everyone else.

Take, for instance, Falcons free agent linebacker Curtis Lofton, who had been speculated as a Bucs target for weeks before signing a five-year deal late Saturday with the Saints. Turns out the only thing with a more inflated price than gas per gallon is linebacker per pound. Lofton would have been an upgrade but not all the way to Patrick Willis territory. He was not blank-check worthy.

As far as safety, why, I'm in favor it. Help has to be out there. Let's face it: A good speed bump would be an improvement.

How else is the Bucs defense going to get better? One, the effort will be better because, let's face it, it can't get worse. Two, injured players have a chance to heal. Three, the Bucs have a chance to address the defense in the draft.

Funny, but most of the Internet chat seems to be about whether the Bucs should pick Trent Richardson (a more complete back for a team that is going to be run-heavy) or Morris Claiborne (a top-flight cover corner). You can make an argument either way. That's what being bad is. You can make an argument for a lot of positions.

This much is true: The Bucs seem to be a more viable franchise now than when the season ended. Pretty much that's what a team is supposed to work on in the offseason, isn't it?

Next, though, the Bucs need to repair the defense.

Until they can stop someone, it won't really feel like starting over.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers still need to repair their defense 03/24/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 25, 2012 12:14am]

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