Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles was handed a tough task when he took over as the Bucs’ defensive coordinator this past off-season. Not only was he responsible for improving one of the worst statistical defenses in the league the past two seasons, he had to do it with a lot of youth.

On any given Sunday, Tampa Bay’s defense starts the game with five to six starting defenders that are rookies or second-year players. That comes in the form of linebacker Devin White, defensive tackle Vita Vea and defensive backs Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

While the defense began the year on another very poor pace from a yardage and scoring standpoint, they have shown a lot of growth over the past few months. In fact, White was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for November while Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Davis all found themselves on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week, one week or another, between Week 10 and Week 13.

“Their work ethic, I would say, is number one,” Bowles said about what stands out to him from this rookie class. “And the way they absorb information and get better. They take it and they study it on their own and they want to be better and they want to be great. Those are the two things I notice right now.”

While the defense has very young players all across the starting lineup, Bowles points to the veteran presence of guys like Lavonte David and Ndamukong Suh to bring along their young counterparts, specifically the pair of first-round picks in Vea and White.

“I think you need the veteran leadership,” Bowles said. “Those guys aren’t just great players, they’re great leaders on and off the field. And a lot of it you don’t see off the field, but they do a heck of a job with the young guys and bringing them along.”

Bowles then spoke more about what that leadership has done for Vea.

“It’s been great because between [Suh] and Beau [Allen], the help he gets from a mental standpoint and a hand placement standpoint and understanding blocking schemes, Vita’s been great this year.”

Bucs NT Vita Vea
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

And for further comparison, much like Vea started his rookie year with a lower body injury that forced him to miss time, a knee injury in Week 2 forced White into a four-game absence earlier in the year. Although it took some time, White’s play has improved steadily and we’re beginning to see the quickness and big-play ability that he was praised for when drafted.

“You’re not a rookie when you’re playing the whole year but mentally he has some things to learn,” Bowles said. “He plays fast and he gets better every day. As long as the mental aspect of the game comes for him, and it’s coming very fast, his ceiling… If he stays healthy, he controls his own destiny. He’s a good player, he’s a very good player, he has a chance to be a great player if he stays healthy and everything goes well.”

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  1. When in comparison to McCoy, Suh’s leadership is off the charts. Suh’s patience & presence alone makes him a valuable piece to bring back next season. Similar to how Vjax was kept on to mentor Evans, I believe with one more year under Suh & Lavonte’s mentorship Vita Vea and D White will be perennial Pro Bowlers.

    Rating: +38. From 48 votes.
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    • They’ll be perennial Pro Bowlers if the Bucs can continue winning this season and make the playoffs next season. Personally, I think Vea should make the Pro Bowl this year, but he won’t since we don’t have enough wins for more national attention.

      Rating: +12. From 12 votes.
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    • Suh vs McCoy comes down to walking the walk vs talking the talk. Hope Suh comes back. He has two touchdowns this year and he hasn’t even played on offense like Vita! Keeping those two guys together one more year sounds good to me.

      Breaking news: Giants CB Janoris Jenkins cut for calling a fan a “retard” on Twitter. Is there room on the 53 to get a look? He’s as old as Pat Peterson and is slightly cheaper. 4th in the NFL in INTs this season.

      Rating: +3. From 5 votes.
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  2. I think Bowles has done a great job with this secondary. It took 10 games to get it right, but in fairness, he had 6 first or second-year DBs, and another on IR, and one who has been promising to perform at 1st round level after five yrs, and a couple hang on’s. Hargraves is gone, and I think we might actually be able to go into next year’s free agency and draft without talking about getting 2 or 3 new defensive backs. We might be able to concentrate on the Offensive line, maybe another Defensive lineman and a running back.

    Rating: +18. From 18 votes.
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  3. I have defended GMAC here in past years. I was dumbfounded when he went to the Panthers instead of the Ravens. Now I don’t expect he will ever appear in a playoff game before his career ends. Too bad but it was his decision in the end.

    I now see why the new guys under BA jettisoned GMAC and replaced him with Suh. I was impressed by Suh in an interview I saw before he set foot on the practice field at One Buc Place. I am even more impressed after watching him play for us. His latest interview had some new insights for me too.
    Go Bucs!!!

    Rating: +21. From 21 votes.
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    • I was just reading somewhere about the personnel changes on our defense. We got rid of GMC for Suh and now have one of the top run defenses in the league. Meanwhile the Panthers are near or at the bottom. Coincidence? Maybe…but then we got rid of VH3 and our pass defense is looking much better. This has a lot to do with the additional reps for our rookies but still, we see improvement we weren’t seeing with VH3 on the field. I don’t think anyone is really afraid of he Texans’ pass defense right now.

      Slowly the staff is making the right moves and we’re seeing the improvements on the field. The only way Suh isn’t here next year is if his price tag is too high, hopefully that won’t be the case. We could pick up a veteran DB in FA for leadership but it looks like we’re in pretty good hands already with these young bucs. Now we can shift the focus to the OL this draft where it should have been the past few years. Give Jameis another year or 2 under BA with an improved OL and this improved defense and I think we see his full potential.

      Rating: +17. From 17 votes.
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  4. If Suh comes back and we draft the right defensive lineman with one of our first three or four picks we could be looking good next year and on into the future.

    In BA I trust. (And I don’t “hate” Licht either.)
    Go Bucs!

    Rating: +6. From 8 votes.
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  5. I think Bruce Arians has a very good gut sense about which Bucs were lazy or lackadaisical even before pre season was here by watching film, talking to guys, etc. McCoy was a good player, but part of losing culture here. He didn’t hate losing enough period. I won’t say anything else negative about him he’s gone but I never was a big fan of him. Hargreaves was lazy and immature. Arians called him out in pre-season if you remember so he already knew he was a clown and gave him some time to shape up. Arians doesn’t play and I like that. Run defense improved without McCoy, and now secondary improving with no Hargreaves. Yes they know what they are doing. They don’t “suck” Like So many negative fans said and our resident troll suck—ass—- kept saying and quoting Bowels record with Jets which doesn’t mean shit. They needed some time with lots of youth and it’s going the right way.

    Over the course of this season we have had some ugly games and some very down times. Throughout it all I still felt this team was very close and overall happy with what they are doing and personnel decisions.

    I hope they can win these last 3 games or at least 2 and get some more positive momentum and confidence for the secondary for next year.

    They still have few needs but overall the future is bright in Tampa again imo. I’m happy with Coaching staff and I’m glad Licht will be here little more time at least. He made plenty mistakes but There is a learning curve for GM and it can be steep. He’s been lot more hits than misses lately imo.

    Rating: +8. From 10 votes.
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  6. A veteran FA pickup would be good in the defensive backfield, maybe two, for added depth. I don’t really think Licht should add another rookie to this group in the draft, they need time to gel. I would also like to see them keep Big Dot next year at a veteran’s minimum for depth on the OL, draft his replacement, and let Dot help him in technique and in the film room. Keep Minter for LB depth as well. I’d like to see the majority of this team stay, continuity has it’s value when things appear to be on the uptick. Another year under the current coaching staff appears promising.

    Rating: +3. From 3 votes.
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