For the past three seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have finished in the bottom third of the league in total defense. A franchise whose defense was a known staple, now seems as lost as an urban myth. Offensive coordinators would fear and game plan for the Buccaneers’ ball-hawking and swarming defense night and day. Now, they look forward to being able to shatter records or get their offenses back on track when coming to play Tampa Bay.
The defenses that the Buccaneers have been trotting out onto the field the last few years can be summed up in one word, soft. A word that no one, especially in football, wants to have attached to their name. General Manager Jason Licht contributed to this problem by a couple of his free agent signings and draft picks. Luckily, however, this offseason he was able to assess this issue and make the necessary changes to help remedy the situation.
In comes new head coach Bruce Arians, a coach who is as far from the word “soft” as you can imagine. Along with Arians, comes his lifelong friend and coaching protege, Todd Bowles. Bowles is the defensive parallel to Arians, and shares much of the same philosophies. Together they have made an emphasis this off-season in creating a new identity for this team. No matter where a player was drafted, how much money they made, or how much of a fan favorite they were, Arians and Bowles are going to do whatever it takes to get the defense to where it needs to be.
This “culture change” began immediately, with Arians’ introductory press conference, where he was non-committal towards one of the teams most prominent “face of the franchise” in Gerald McCoy. Over the last couple of seasons, McCoy has seen his production slip slightly, but for fans, it is the mindset that has received the most gripe. When you are constantly losing, it is hard to look over at the sidelines and watch your defensive captains laughing it up with other players. Especially when more often than not, it has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense setting records (negatively) and the biggest reason for these losses.
The new coaching staff must have felt the same as these fans, as during the annual league meeting this off-season Arians publicly criticized McCoy. Arians called into question his desire for the game and his declining play. Those remarks led to the writing being on the wall that McCoy was not going to return for another season. With the Buccaneers looking to replace their star defensive tackle, Arians put the entire team on notice that no player was safe. They were after a certain mentality for this team. A new philosophy on defense, especially when they have been so miserable and ran over.
Just as the hiring of Arians went far away from “soft” as you can get, Tampa Bay did the same when they announced the signing of Ndamukong Suh. The addition of Suh is a message from Arians and Bowles on what kind of team, especially on defense, that they want. Some will say that Suh is “too dirty,” and this will cost the Buccaneers. I have news for you; they can’t get any worse. Keep in mind Arians is one of the most respected coaches in the entire NFL, there have been several players labelled as “head cases” or worse that have bought into Arians. Most notably would be Tyrann Mathieu and we all know how that turned out.
McCoy vs. Suh
For Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, the enigma of Suh VS. McCoy has been around since the 2010 draft season. Unfair or not to McCoy, there has always been a comparison of the two in their careers, not only in production but also in personalities. I wrote previously how many fans were hoping Suh fell to Tampa Bay’s third pick back in 2010, only to see Suh selected one pick prior while McCoy ended up being their selection.
Since then, no matter how close the two are in production, McCoy has never been truly appreciated, because of the “friendly” personality the defensive tackle conveys at a position that screams anger. Actions such as the laughter on the sidelines while losing games, to apologizing to quarterbacks after hitting them is not part of Suh’s DNA. Not to discredit McCoy’s production, but again this is much deeper than just stats.
Tampa Bay created an environment that grew to be OK with losing, and Arians must shred that immediately. Suh is a perfect replacement to be the leader in that category. Here is an analogy for you “Game of Thrones” fans out there. Suh is like “The Mountain,” and McCoy is like “The Hound.” Both are great fighters, but if you were going to battle, you would want the intimidation and fear that goes along with “The Mountain” on your side.
Looking back at the 2019 NFL Draft you can see this new mindset implemented to the incoming rookies. After Licht drafted three defensive backs in the first four rounds in 2018, Tampa Bay selected three more in the top three rounds this year. A move like that with a new coaching staff is another sign that Arians and Bowles have a specific plan.
They would have known at that time that McCoy was not going to be back. Instead, however, of drafting his replacement, they spent 3 of their first four selections on the secondary. For one, this would show that Suh was their plan for quite some time. Secondly, they are not going to settle for any mediocrity whatsoever.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent six of their eight selections in the draft on defense, including their top five. Arians praised first-round pick Devin White as his “perfect fit” as a player. Not only because of his play, but as Arians also mentioned repeatedly, because of the person White is. White is an alpha, a team leader, and plays like his head is on fire to win. Tampa Bay drafted five former team captains this past April, which was not an accident.
A revamped defense consisting of nine(!) top 4-round drafted defensive backs. A linebacking core led by Devin White and Lavonte David. A defensive line comprised of Suh, Vita Vea, and Jason Pierre-Paul, when healthy. In addition they have pass-rushers Carl Nassib and Shaq Barrett. The Buccaneers have no shortage of talent on defense, but they now also have that “nasty” edge in personalities. There is now a group that will not accept losing and a coaching staff that won’t allow them that option.
In adding Suh, along with White and fellow rookies, the Buccaneers will hopefully return to bringing fear into opposing offenses. Suh will be the “poster child” so to speak for this new coaching staff on how this defense plays. Enough of being a laughing stock, and being bullied week after week. Everyone will be held accountable, and settling for anything less than winning will not be tolerated. There is a new sheriff in town Buccaneer fans.