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)

Tarpon Springs' defense takes spotlight

Tarpon Springs’ defense is shredding last season’s image by getting back to basics. The Spongers and Maurice Turner, right, have allowed only 17 points in their first two games.

CHRIS PRICE | Special to the Times

Tarpon Springs’ defense is shredding last season’s image by getting back to basics. The Spongers and Maurice Turner, right, have allowed only 17 points in their first two games.

TARPON SPRINGS — Last week, the rain had come and gone. The offense, too. But the defense remained, coming through with one more stop.

That late stand by Tarpon Springs, which struggled on defense last season, felt like something more than the impetus for the Spongers' 21-17 victory over Osceola. It felt like the start of a turnaround in which Tarpon Springs shoves itself into the postseason conversation.

The unbeaten Spongers have allowed 17 points in their first two games, fourth best in the county. The improved play of the defense gives Tarpon Springs an edge as it heads into tonight's home game against Tampa Catholic (1-1), a team many are starting to believe is a state title contender in Class 3A.

"There's no doubt, our defense has been key for how well we've played so far," coach Ron Hawn said.

There were Fridays last season when running backs moving through the front seven of the Spongers' defense looked like steel balls careening off the flippers of a pinball machine. The yardage and missed tackles rolled up as quickly as points in an arcade game.

Running backs shredded Tarpon Springs for more than 170 yards a game, leaving the reputation of the defense in tatters during a seven-game losing streak to close out the season.

"It was frustrating the way we played," linebacker Damarkus Jones said. "We just needed to tackle better. We knew we had the talent, but there were too many missed opportunities to make plays."

The defensive unit had an entire offseason to absorb the reality of its futility.

"We didn't change much in what we did," Hawn said. "We focused on tackling better. But the biggest change is in character. Guys are on time, disciplined and focused on what we're trying to do."

Hawn took over as defensive coordinator and streamlined the system. The Spongers now operate out of a base 3-4 defense, with tackling machines such as Casey Luckenbill at inside linebacker, big bodies such as Brian Anderson and Mitchell Wilcox up front, and players such as Jones who seek out quarterbacks from the edge.

The difference showed in spring practice when running back Michael Ford, one of the county's leading rushers last season, was consistently bottled up by his defensive teammates.

"That first practice set the tempo for the whole season," Luckenbill said. "When we were able to bring down Mike, that gave us all a lot of confidence."

The tackling drills continued with old-school fundamentals this summer. It paid off when the Spongers held Anclote to 12 yards rushing in their preseason game and allowed minus-16 yards of offense to Clearwater in the season opener.

"The changes are pretty simple," Wilcox said. "We've basically polished up a lot in fundamentals and have physical practices. We've done well so far, and we want to come out again this week and show what we're made of."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.

Tarpon Springs' defense takes spotlight 09/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jameis Winston's subtle but strong moment of leadership displayed on 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    Quarterback Jameis Winston went to each teammate in the locker room prior to the Bucs' preseason opener Friday at Cincinnati with one message: 'I got your back.'

    Then he proved it.

    Jameis Winston sarcastically tells offensive linemen James Stone and James Harrison he's glad glad they're having fun while quarterback Ryan Griffin is being attended to in the locker room by the Bucs medical staff. [HBO/NFL FILMS]
  2. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Highlights — and fights — from Jacksonville

    Bucs

    Greg Auman is back home after two days of joint practices between the Bucs and Jaguars in Jacksonville. He recaps those practices — and fights — and talks about highlights from Tuesday's episode …

    Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Kenneth Walker, right, cannot snag a pass against Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith during a joint NFL football practice Monday in Jacksonville. [Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union]
  3. Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?

    Blogs

    The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.

  4. Rays morning after: The real reasons behind Tuesday's win over Blue Jays

    Blogs

    Scoring six runs was the big news for the offensively challenged Rays in Tuesday's victory over the Blue Jays.

    Corey Dickerson (10) celebrates Tuesday's victory with Steven Souza Jr. (20) and Peter Bourjos (18).
  5. Jones: Roberto Aguayo getting the boot was star of Tuesday's 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Roberto gets cut.

    That was the big story line heading into the second episode of HBO's Hard Knocks, the behind-the-scenes look at Bucs training camp. In fact, it was one of the most anticipated story lines Hard Knocks has had in years.

    Roberto Aguayo watches one of his final kicks Friday for the Bucs.