When new Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith took to the podium at One Buc Place on January 15th, he made one thing perfectly clear when asked about his scheme: there would be many different looks. No stranger to the NFC South, Smith knows exactly how lethal the opposing offenses can be if you don’t mix it up and throw different schemes at them. When quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Drew Brees are able to read you and figure out what you are doing on virtually every single play, it makes for the nightmares that Bucs fans have suffered through in recent seasons.
The secondary has been gut wrenching and painful to watch. Pass rush nearly non-existent. Over the last 4-5 seasons, the Bucs have allowed back up, and occasional 3rd string quarterbacks, to seem unstoppable against this defense. For a franchise once known and feared for its defense and never really known for their ability to light up the scoreboard, the Bucs now find themselves searching for their defensive identity.
It is impossible to know at this point just how much the defense will improve upon the dismal performances of the last few years. In February, it is purely speculation and hope. However, there is much to be optimistic about. The tired, worn out, and predictable version of the Tampa 2 that Lovie Smith implemented for two seasons is history. That defense of 2002 was executed to perfection thanks to the likes of household names like Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp. Add in Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Dexter Jackson, Brian Kelly, and Dwight Smith, and it was a recipe for success that was bound to deliver. That defense simply cannot and should not be reproduced. Those players made the Tampa 2, not the other way around.
The Bucs may not have those type of names on the roster currently, but with Kwon Alexander coming off an outstanding rookie campaign and Lavonte David looking like a long-term staple of production at outside linebacker, the pieces are in place to build upon. The team will no doubt be addressing the secondary and the pass rush concerns in this year’s draft. With the ninth overall pick, a name like former Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves could be available. The Tampa native proved to be a shutdown corner for an outstanding Gator defense and could have an immediate impact for his hometown Bucs. The team will also be exploring their options for an impact edge rusher, either through the draft or free agency.
I’m not sure if we should expect the same type of turnaround for the defense that the offense experienced in 2015 because, quite frankly, there is no Jameis Winston on defense available in the draft or free agent market. The rebuilding of the defense could take time. But the identity of this team is now building a defense around a high-powered offense and it is an identity that I am happy to embrace in Tampa Bay.