Monday, June 18, 2018
Sports

New Bucs secondary has something to prove

TAMPA — Somewhere, Drew Brees is waiting.

Somewhere, Matt Ryan is smiling.

Somewhere, Tom Brady is whistling a merry tune.

Today, members of the new and improved secondary of the Tampa Bay Bucs begin training camp. And yes, they are still the hunted.

How can they not be? Last year they were a midrange pass from giving up the most yardage of all time, more than all those terrible Bucs teams, more than all those awful Arizona teams.

Can a new corner, even if he is Darrelle Revis, cure that?

Can a new safety, even if he is Dashon Goldson, make a difference?

Here at the beginning, the secondary of the Bucs is the most interesting unit of the team. It is a combination of imported talent and the guys who are still here — a blend of new stars and old scars, if you will — that somehow must turn a team weakness into a team strength.

You remember last year, don't you, when the Bucs' defensive backs chased receivers across goal lines. For a season they were cussed and discussed, roasted and toasted, deep-fried and half-baked.

Yes, they should be better this year. But will they be a strength?

Ask Cam Newton. Ask Colin Kaepernick. Ask Sam Bradford.

Look, teams are still going to try to throw against the Bucs. Given the quality of quarterbacks on the schedule and the strength of wide receivers, that's natural. The question is how the secondary holds up. Will it be last in yardage against the pass, somewhere in the middle, or in the top echelon?

"They better hold up," said Bucs coach Greg Schiano. "If they want to win, they have to hold up. We have to help them with a pass rush, and we have to help them with an offense that scores points. They're going to be fine."

The loudest response the Bucs secondary can utter, of course, should come from Revis. But he enters training camp still recovering from knee surgery. The Bucs haven't decided how much Revis will play in the preseason, if at all. They just want him ready for the regular season.

Ah, but even with Revis, you can wonder if that will lead to a lopsided field, if teams will simply surrender Revis' turf and throw the other way, toward Leonard Johnson or Danny Gorrer or rookie Johnthan Banks.

The answer: not really. If Revis is healthy, he'll be an immense asset. Yes, teams can go away from him, but the Bucs can give their other side more safety help. Remember Deion Sanders? He made teammate Larry Brown into a Super Bowl MVP because the Steelers were so intent on throwing away from him.

In other words, much of the secondary depends on Revis, and his health, and his skills, and his leadership.

"I heard great things about him, and he's been better than that," said cornerbacks coach Tony Oden. "He carries himself like a professional, like a person who wants to learn. Sometimes when you get elite players, they're set in their ways. He's not like that."

Then there are the safeties, Goldson and last year's No. 1 pick, Mark Barron. It is fair to expect an impact from Goldson and improvement from Barron. There are those who suggest the two play too much alike, but that's a notion that makes safeties coach Jeff Hafley grin.

"I think it's a great thing that one would say they're similar," said Hafley. "We ask our safeties to do a lot of different things, and they can do it all. One isn't a box safety, and one isn't a deep safety. We don't talk in those terms. We ask them to do a lot, and they can both do a lot."

Still, there are questions. And there are quarterbacks. And there are receivers like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones and Roddy White and Marques Colston and the rest. There are tests to pass.

For the Bucs' secondary, think of this camp as a proving ground — and, in the case of Revis, a recovery ward. It cannot survive a seasonlong backpedal such as last year. It cannot win chasing receivers across the goal line.

"I think this secondary has a chance to be the best in the NFL," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "Any secondary in the NFL has a chance to be the best, but I'm kind of biased toward my own team. I really believe in the talent we have. If they stick to it and put the work in, this secondary could be special."

Ah, but can it be special enough. After all, it not only needs to be better, it needs to be good.

In the end, it needs to flip the game around. It needs to be the hunter.

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