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Will the brash Bucs secondary buoy or bury itself with ill-advised nickname?

Following a sparkling effort in New Orleans, the group has dubbed itself the “Grave Diggers.”
Bucs safety Mike Edwards (32), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) and linebacker Devin White (45) celebrate with cornerback Jamel Dean (35) after Dean intercepted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown during Tampa Bay's 38-10 triumph on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs safety Mike Edwards (32), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) and linebacker Devin White (45) celebrate with cornerback Jamel Dean (35) after Dean intercepted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown during Tampa Bay's 38-10 triumph on Oct. 18 at Raymond James Stadium. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 23

Swagger’s flammability can vary depending on the one administering the gas. In a football context, it can ignite a team or completely torch its aspirations.

Which leads us to the Bucs secondary, and the showroom-new nickname it takes Sunday to Lambeau Field.

Meet the “Grave Diggers.”

“It’s just the style we play, how we play,” second-year cornerback Carlton Davis said Friday.

“Excuse my language, but we play to kill. We play to, like, not leave any evidence. We play to dominate. So ‘Grave Diggers’ just sounds like a good name for us. It fits our playing style.”

It just might not jibe with the times. In other news Friday, Florida reported 277 coronavirus-related deaths, tying the state’s single-day record.

Such is the spot in which this assemblage of first- and second-year players has positioned itself. In no time soon is it likely to live down such a tone-deaf nickname, even as it attempts to live up to it.

Reckon the Packers have caught wind of this cocksure moniker?

“That wasn’t something we planned,” Davis said. “We were just, like, using it as a caption for a picture, and then I guess it kind of got around and went viral a little bit, and people on ESPN started talking about it. I guess that’s our name now.”

Say this for the unit: The swagger has been validated. While clearly exploited at times this season, this group — featuring five players drafted in 2018 or later on the two-deep depth chart — has developed a knack for sparkling against the game’s most efficient passers.

Consider: Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have combined for 11 interceptions this year, but five of them have come against Tampa Bay, including three off Brees in last weekend’s NFC division playoff. Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, who had one of the lowest interception percentages (1.7) among 2020 full-time starters, also was picked off by the Bucs.

“That comes with practice and preparation,” rookie free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. said Thursday, a day before being downgraded to questionable for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. “As long as we prepare well, we can have that confidence going into the game.”

The first go-round against the Packers offered a surreal glimpse of the unit’s potential. By showing pressure before falling into zone, the Bucs coaxed Rodgers into a sideline throw intended for Davante Adams. Cornerback Jamel Dean stepped in front of it and returned it for a 32-yard touchdown.

On the next possession, the Bucs blitzed on third down, leaving Davis in man coverage on Adams. It led to an errant Rodgers throw that second-year safety Mike Edwards picked off.

Yet the de facto clinics have been offset by collapses.

The victim of an ill-advised scheme, Davis was mercilessly exploited by Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill in a 27-24 loss on Nov. 29, and second-year corner Sean Murphy-Bunting struggled mightily in the first half of a 31-27 win in Atlanta on Dec. 20.

But cognizant of Brees’ inability to throw a downfield pass last weekend, the Bucs sat on the short routes and picked him off three times.

“A lot of young guys just coming together, having growing pains, learning, taking our lessons and turning it into blessings,” Davis said.

“And to get to this point right now is amazing, but we still understand there’s a lot more work to do, that the job isn’t finished, and losing now could make us feel as if we did all of this for no reason. We just want to finish the job.”

Arguably the most daunting part of the job awaits Sunday. Behind a triumvirate of tailbacks, Rodgers is flourishing in play-action. His regular-season quarterback rating (121.5), completion percentage (70.7) and touchdown-pass total (48) led the NFL.

Further, he could be facing a Bucs back end missing Winfield, who has started all 18 games as a rookie.

“Aaron is outstanding at looking one way (but) throwing the other,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said.

“His ability to make plays out of nothing, I think it’s one of the best in the league because he can just flick the ball and be so accurate with it whether it’s deep (or) short. His movement in the pocket, I think he’s one of the best there is.”

Swag takes on seasoning at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Bucs fans can only hope their cocksure defenders haven’t dug their own hole.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.