It took Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson until his fourth season in the NFL to finally see his name at the top of the strong-side linebacker depth chart. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft out of Florida State, Watson has been used to making plays for Tampa Bay as a rush specialist on the punt return unit. But this season presents a different challenge for the former Seminoles' captain.
Earning the starting role as the Bucs strongside linebacker this training camp, Watson recorded three tackles including a sack on Sunday against the Jets. Although that was just his fourth start of his career, Watson spoke like a true veteran and leader-in-the-making when he talked about the linebacker play on the season opener.
“We did some great things out there, but there are things we have to capitalize on as a unit,” Watson said. “There are a lot of things we have to be more focused on. We have to be on our P’s and Q’s and cover whenever we need to cover. The other stuff will come. The sacks and things will come. The things that are going to help us win games, the fundamental parts – things we have to do as far as subbing out and subbing in. Those are going to be the key things. We just want to continue to play hungry and play smart.”
Teammate Lavonte David took a lot of heat for his personal foul on rookie quarterback Geno Smith at the end of the game Sunday. David, who finished with eight tackles, one sack, and one interception, had his day overshadowed by that one single play — which at time point the Bucs could have had the game well out of reach. On Monday, Watson stood up for David.
“A lot of people want to sit here and point the finger and say, ‘He did this’ or ‘He did that’ and ‘He lost the game,’” Watson said. “Come on, man. He messed up one time. That’s a future Pro Bowler. Did everybody forget that he had an interception? Did everybody forget that he had a sack? Everybody wants to look at one negative play and point to that, but as a team, we all have to play our part. People looking outside and people that don’t know football that point fingers and don’t know exactly what’s going on – it’s easy to do that.”
While Watson states the linebackers will play hungry and smart, the defense's physical play in New York was on display and he is just glad to be a member of a hard-hitting defense.
“It’s a very physical team and I’m just glad to be a part of it,” Watson said. “I contributed it and actually witnessed it. Most definitely. It’s going to continue to get better.
“I feel like there are a lot of weapons on this team. When you have a Lamborghini you just don’t keep it in the garage. We have a lot of weapons and we have to utilize them and put them in the best position [we can.] Obviously, it’s paying off with the sacks, the sack-fumbles.”
Part of the reason for the physical nature of Tampa Bay's defense is the play of their safeties Sunday. Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson were flying all over the field and making the Jets receivers think twice about crossing in front of them. While the unit was hitting Jets' receivers hard, Watson said that is one thing he is concerned about because of the NFL monitoring hits closely but it does not stop him from enjoying a good hit on the field.
“One thing you want to show is intimidation,” Watson said. “There is going to be some funk brought to the game as far as the hitting. The one thing I’m worried about is more so getting penalized for hitting too hard. They see somebody fall, fold up or just get up too slow and say, ‘Oh, you must have used your head.’ I don’t want it to become a flag football league. That’s what I’m afraid of. Nowadays you can’t even look at the quarterback wrong. Now we’re worrying about receivers coming across [the middle]. It’s football. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s an aggressive game. That’s one thing that frustrates me.
“But it’s also a positive with the intimidation factor. We’re not going to sit here and say that’s going to allow us to win games or anything like that, but I like the big hits, though.”
And for Watson and the Bucs, they hope that intimidation and physicality carries into Sunday's matchup against divisional rivals New Orleans Saints — a team in which the linebacker says they are getting ready for.
“It’s a new year,” Watson said. “It’s a new season and we’re going to focus on what we have now and it’s them coming up.
“We can sit here and say how good of a team we’ve got. Blah, blah, blah. At the same time we have to see how it looks down the line. We started great last year, and you see what happened. We’re not going to sit here and be complacent. We’re not going to sit here and be comfortable. We’re going to continue to grind and get ready for New Orleans.”