Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator Todd Bowles joined the media for a virtual press conference on Thursday where he discussed a number of topics ranging from Tom Brady’s potential impact on the Bucs’ defense to the variability of the team’s safeties and what progress should be expected from the defense’s younger players, especially amid a pandemic that limits their access to facilities and OTAs.
On Brady’s presence, Bowles described the situation as an “iron sharpens iron” approach but added that the defense has to prepare correctly and be their best regardless of who’s standing in the pocket across from them.
“Some of the things that make him great is doing the same things every day and being consistent at it,” Bowles said. “You don’t get to be a great player unless you work at it every day, not when the cameras are rolling but when the cameras are off. He takes care of his body, he understands the game, he will play the same way whether it’s the Super Bowl or whether it’s the preseason. He comes to win and I think that’s a great mental aspect added to our team. But defensively, we have to do what we’ve been doing regardless of who’s the quarterback and who’s on the offense, we got to try and get the ball back and get them off the field.”
“He takes what you give him, he competes and he puts you on your heels on every play. Obviously it’s 11 guys on offense, it won’t just be Tom. He’s coming into a place where he’s got some other guys over there to work with. I’ll be the first one to greet him once I see him, show how happy I am to have him here, but at the same time he’s got 11 guys to work with on the offense and as much as we can get them the ball back and get them to score points, the more we can get after it on defense. So we’re just looking forward to win however we can win.”
Bowles then talked about the sudden flip in production from the first half of the 2019 season to the second half and how that turnaround came to be.
“The first half we were still getting to know each other,” Bowles said. “We can execute better obviously as coaches, we can call it better and this offseason the communication has got to be there. It’s a different way of teaching but the better you know your players, the more you can take advantage of the situation. So we’ve got to do our due diligence as coaches make sure that we’re not just talking to them but we’re teaching them and making sure that they can talk back to us and making sure that they have a clear understanding.”
A lot of that turnaround coincided with noted improvement from the Bucs’ younger players
on defense, specifically Devin White and Tampa Bay’s group of defensive backs. When discussing the youth on the team’s defense, Bowles said they’ve physically grown under the Bucs’ flag but are still puppies mentally, accounting for both the rookies and second-year players on the roster.
“Like any first year guy, you grow mentally and that’s a natural progression, that’s not going to happen the first year,” Bowles said about inside linebacker Devin White. “You get better as the season goes but when the game slowed down for him he started to play faster. Obviously we’ve got to pick that up again and make sure he has a great understanding of it, then put him in position to make plays and I think he’ll make them.”
But with the limitations due to COVID-19, a lot of the preparation has involved virtual meetings and a lack of face-to-face coaching.
“It’s been good just from a refresher standpoint,” Bowles said about the virtual meetings with the Bucs’ defensive players. “For us, as coaches, we get together to do the minor details and the things we have to perfect from last year. The things we don’t like, the things that we do. As far as getting it to the players, it’s just fine-tuning the details of the things that we ran and if we add a few new wrinkles it’s really important for us to communicate and have them communicate it back to us so we understand going in, whenever we go in. This may not be a normal season so we have to be ready to go because everybody’s in the same boat, so the communication and continuity verbally has got to be there day one.”
Moving on to the secondary, Bowles talked about now second-year cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting’s role in the defensive backfield, describing shades of Ronde Barber as he expects Murphy-Bunting to play on the outside in base defense while sliding into the nickel role when Jamel Dean takes the field across from Carlton Davis.
He then spoke about the interchangeable roles for his safeties.
“I think they’re both interchangeable,” Bowles said about his free safety and strong safety positions. “We do so much interchanging, the title free and strong are just for the label, but depending on who we play you can see one guy in one and another guy in the other depending on our game plan so we see it equally the same as far as a positionless safety.”
“You learn [every role at safety] and that’s what we do as a defensive coaching staff, make them learn them all but come game day, depending on who’s playing, we know their strengths and weaknesses and we’ll put them where they need to be. We won’t make someone do something they can’t do, we try to let the elephants be elephants and the giraffes be giraffes as Coach Parcells used to say.”
And that versatility was one of the main things that stood out about the Bucs’ rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., per Bowles.
“[Winfield’s] smart and he’s a tough football player and the ball finds him, that’s rare for the ball to find safeties in college these days,” Bowles said. “He’s got great pedigree. . . He can do multiple things like we have our safeties do, he can play nickle, he can play strong, he can play free, he’s multi-dimensional so that can’t do anything but help us.”