Back in the role of starter, Geno Hayes spoke with the media about losing and then regaining his spot at weakside linebacker on Thursday afternoon.
“It opened my eyes up very wide,” Hayes said about dropping to second string behind Adam Hayward prior to the New Orleans game in Week 9. “I feel great. I’m happy to be back and ready to start playing again. Went out, practiced every week, worked on what I had to work on, got my keys down and the details of the game and it came out well.”
The fourth-year linebacker out of Florida State was relegated to backup duties and special teams the past two weeks as a “wake-up call” to try and reinvigorate both Hayes and the entire linebacking unit, head coach Raheem Morris said after the loss to New Orleans. At the time, Hayes was the team’s leading tackler, with 48 total. He’s currently at 53 after recording five takedowns against Houston last Sunday and is second on the team with five tackles for loss.
Hayward filled Hayes’ role by posting 13 total tackles in the Bucs’ two losses against New Orleans and Houston. Also in his fourth year, Hayward logged his best statistical day as a pro last Sunday with nine tackles. What Hayward did not add to the mix, though, was drive-altering impact type plays the Bucs are looking for out of its linebackers. Thirteen tackles was the only number he put up – no tackles for loss, no turnovers, no passes defensed.
Now that he’s back where he was throughout the season’s first seven weeks, Hayes said wants to live up to the expectations with his play on the field and prove why he’s started 36 games in a Tampa Bay uniform since 2009.
“You love that [the coaches] believe in you, but it also goes to the other 10 guys around you looking at you to be that guy,” he said. “They know they’ve seen it on tape, they’ve seen you do it in person, they expect that from you. So it’s more of your peers looking around and looking for that spark. That’s something that’s real big for me. That shows real heavily that guys are looking for that guy to make that play.”
When Hayes was speaking of making “that play,” he was referring to impact or splash plays and turnovers that have eluded this Buccaneers defense all year.
“That’s something we’re going to be harping on real heavy from here on out. When we’re not getting splash plays, not getting sparks, not getting energy on our defense, we’ve got to get guys that carry the banner and pick up the defense and have guys get ready to go.”
During Morris’ Monday press conference at One Buccaneer Place, the head coach called out the entire team for loafing on particular plays. Hayes said he thinks the message was received loud and clear.
“We’re real big on critiquing ourselves and Coach Raheem has always pounded in our heads that our core belief is to run, hustle, hit and we didn’t do it. It’s on tape and guys have to be critical of themselves and go back out there and fix it this week. This week so far guys have really bought into it.”
An added help of late, Hayes said, has been some small-talk sessions with former Bucs great Derrick Brooks.
“I talked to Brooks last Friday. He’s just been giving small pointers. Focus on your keys, read, play fast; pretty much the fundamentals of football. We’ve had some in depth conversations over the phone, but I can’t get into that. That really opened my eyes up and saw what he was trying to point out to me and let me see what was going on. I’ve taken advantage of the situation and I’ve got to take it to another level.”
Tampa Bay’s young personnel at linebacker continues suffer through its growing pains, but Hayes said he thinks the potential is there to become a driving force for this defense.
“It’s in us. We have the talent level there. We have guys that have all the physical attributes of being a linebacker and having the same characteristics of linebackers from the past days. But we can’t be Derrick Brooks, we can’t be Shelton Quarles, but we need to get to that certain talent level within us that we know we can achieve. All it takes is more hard work. Everyone wants it to happen overnight. Not making excuses, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Derrick Brooks didn’t become Derrick Brooks in two days. It took a while for him to become Derrick Brooks, so it comes with learning, it comes with experience and right now I think we’re just growing as a group.”