TAMPA — Since their last home game, the Bucs have been to Atlanta, to Pittsburgh, to New Orleans, a rough three-week stretch that has seen the defense give up 117 points.
Almost as well-traveled in that span is the special Bucs helmet with a green dot on the back, designating which defensive player hears the call from coaches and must line up his teammates correctly in the precious seconds before a snap.
"It's a big deal," coordinator Leslie Frazier said Thursday, addressing several changes on his defense. "For us, the signal-caller is really our quarterback on defense. He's the guy that kind of controls the huddle and gets everybody lined up and everybody playing the same defense."
Three linebackers have worn that helmet and handled those duties in the past four games. Middle linebacker Mason Foster had the opening two games, two close home losses. After he injured his shoulder, his replacement, Dane Fletcher, took over. After two games and a combined 80 points, the Bucs turned last weekend to weakside linebacker Lavonte David, who had those duties the previous two seasons.
And while the Bucs gave up 37 points and 500-plus yards in a 37-31 loss to the Saints, there was encouraging progress. After one interception in the first four games, there were three Sunday, and much more activity breaking up passes in the secondary.
How important is being lined up properly? Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said an experienced quarterback like Baltimore's Joe Flacco can take advantage in a hurry. He pointed to the Saints' Drew Brees, who improvised a quick snap on his first third down Sunday, catching the defense unprepared and nearly connecting on a deep pass.
"Nobody was even set. We were all standing up. Flacco will do the same thing," McCoy said. "We have to be aligned. When you've got your feet set, it's easy to play fast. … You have to wait on the call. They're working on it."
McCoy said the transition back to David has been a good one, with progress in two practices this week. Foster may return Sunday after missing three games, but it appears David will continue to set up the defense.
Coach Lovie Smith had traditionally had his middle or "Mike" linebacker calling the defense, which is why Foster held that job, as he had for the Bucs as a rookie in 2011 before David arrived. Frazier said using an outside linebacker wasn't the plan, but is their best option now with David.
"It wasn't as big an adjustment because he's confident in doing it and the guys are confident with him," Frazier said. "Ordinarily you'd like that to be your middle linebacker doing it, but we chose to go with Lavonte, and it worked out pretty good."
The lineup at linebacker has changed considerably since the start of the season — David has taken nearly every snap, but the outside linebackers have been fluid.
Jonathan Casillas, the primary strongside linebacker for the first three games, hasn't played a defensive snap the past two weeks, and Danny Lansanah has emerged, replacing Casillas two weeks ago, then moving into the nickel defense as well. After playing zero snaps in the opener, he didn't leave the field Sunday.
Smith has even shifted his defensive coordinator, as Frazier has moved to the coaches' booth the past two games after working from the sideline in the first three. He's found it easier to quickly identify offensive personnel changes from up high, which gives more time to respond with an ideal defensive look.
"That's important when you're calling," Frazier said. "It's worked out pretty good. It helped me get the calls in a lot sooner, being able to see it and have someone point it out to me as well. We'll see how it goes this week and moving forward, but it's worked well these last (two) weeks."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.