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Bucs roundtable: What looks better or worse than it first appeared?

Time for another look at that Bucs’ last two draft classes, the young secondary and that home loss to the Giants.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (33) follows a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. [PHELAN M. EBENHACK  |  AP]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (33) follows a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. [PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP]
Published Dec. 5, 2019

With the Bucs three-quarters of the way through the seasons, our coverage team weighed in on this question: What about this season looks better or worse than it first appeared?

A rookie-led defensive transformation

Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer, @NFLStroud: The defense was a hot mess for most of the first half of the season. The front seven played well stopping the run and Shaq Barrett got off to a hot start. But there were two things holding the Bucs back: rookie middle linebacker Devin White’s knee sprain and an inexperienced secondary.

White was drafted No. 5 overall for his play-making ability and leadership qualities. He couldn’t exhibit either, missing all or parts of four games. Meanwhile, the Bucs yielded too many big passing plays with Vernon Hargreaves at cornerback. Sean Murphy-Bunting was lost in coverage. Mike Edwards dropped a big interception.

But following the Seahawks game in which Jamel Dean allowed three touchdown passes to Russell Wilson but also had several pass breakups, the rookies took it upon themselves to work harder, spending more hours with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles learning the defense. The result has been a complete turnaround.

The combination of pressure on the quarterback and tighter coverage had produced three wins in the past four games.

White has taken over the leadership of that rookie class and the entire team is beginning to follow his lead. That only happens when you make big plays. White had two sacks against the Falcons and recorded his first NFL interception and touchdown after scooping up a fumble caused by Barrett and returning it for a touchdown.

The secondary has become primary

Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs beat writer/pro sports enterprise, @EddieintheYard: As the Bucs opened the season to a 2-6 start, the defense allowed an average of 31.5 points and 372 yards a game. The players didn’t seem to match the defense. Bowles’ pressure-heavy scheme left young defensive backs on an island, and the pass rush didn’t often enough get to the quarterback to help them out. But sometimes young players need time to get used to a scheme.

Rookies need the opportunity to fail and learn from it. And over the past four weeks, we’ve seen the Bucs’ young secondary make tremendous strides. They’re breaking up passes they weren’t remotely close to. They’re causing more turnovers, and their confidence is growing. Combine that with a front seven that has 11 sacks in the past two games, and maybe all the defense needed was patience to become great.

The Bucs’ loss to the Giants looks way worse

Mike Sherman, deputy editor | sports, @mikesherman: A generous view of the Bucs’ 32-31 loss to the Giants is that Bruce Arians and Co. were a little rusty. The less generous: That was coaching malpractice. Settling for field goals (glad to see they are making better use of all four downs these days), taking a delay-of-game penalty before the fateful missed field goal, blowing an 18-point halftime lead at home, forgetting Mike Evans was on the roster in the second half. It’s great sport to point to blown officiating calls in New Orleans and Nashville and play what-if with those losses. But if you are demanding perfection from officiating what’s required from coaching? The Giants loss illustrated Arians’ coaching, like the Bucs defense, had lots of room for improvement. Fortunately for the Bucs, we are seeing it now.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Jason Garrett had success against the Giants as Cowboys coach. Now he will face Dallas as New York's new offensive coordinator. [RON JENKINS  |  AP]
    The recently fired Dallas Cowboys coach stays in the NFC East.
  2. Steve Young was a supplemental draft pick of the Bucs in 1984 and started 19 games for Tampa Bay in 1985 and 1986 before he was traded to the 49ers for a pair of draft picks in 1987. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS [Tampa Bay Times]
    The Hall of Fame quarterback played two seasons with Tampa Bay before winning a Super Bowl with the 49ers
  3. A Super Bowl matchup involving former Buccaneers great John Lynch, left, and the San Francisco 49ers and Ryan Tannehill, right, and the Tennessee Titans could be tough to stomach for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans. [Associated Press/DIRK SHADD | Times]
    Rick Stroud | For a lot of reasons, including gifting wins to both teams and GMs who got away, this would be a bad match up for Tampa Bay.
  4. Miami LB Shaquille Quarterman (55) during drills for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    “They don’t yet have the mentality of a Miami Hurricane,” the linebacker says during the days leading up to the East-West Shrine Game.
  5. Todd Monken spent two seasons in Tampa Bay, the last as offensive coordinator, before being dismissed along with the rest of head coach Dirk Koetter's staff after the 2018 season.
    Tampa Bay’s former play-caller will be designing game plans for the Bulldogs against the Florida Gators next season.
  6. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch before an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 11. [TONY AVELAR  |  AP]
    The former Bucs and Broncos safety has his team one win from the Super Bowl.
  7. Florida receiver Josh Hammond (18) on the field during practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Plus Plant High product Jake Fruhmorgen’s journey from Clemson to UF to Baylor to the East-West Shrine Game.
  8. Memphis linebacker Bryce Huff gets fired up after a play during a game against SMU at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas, Texas. [KYLE OKITA  |  ZUMAPRESS.com]
    Plus more East-West Shrine Game nuggets, including former Navy star quarterback Malcolm Perry practicing at receiver
  9. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston reportedly would be unhappy with a franchise tag of about $27 million on a one-year deal. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The fifth-year starter reportedly wants as much as $30 million per year and would not be keen on a franchise player tag.
  10. USF tight end Mitch Wilcox with a reception during a drill on the field during the East practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Monday. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Tarpon Springs alum insists the Bulls’ disastrous 4-8 season benefited him as he prepares for the NFL draft in this week’s East-West Shrine Game activities.
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