Improving the defensive backfield figured to be one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ top priorities heading into the 2016 offseason and the front office responded accordingly.
First came the signings of veteran cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson, followed by the NFL Draft selections of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Ryan Smith.
The four additions are hoped to bolster a secondary that underperformed last season while surrendering 240 yards per game and 31 total touchdowns. The defense’s combined 11 interceptions were the fewest by a Bucs team since 2006 and five of those were recorded by linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.
While the primary responsibility will be keeping opposing passing attacks in check come September, an improved defensive backfield can have the residual effect of benefiting Tampa Bay’s offense, too. Throughout offseason workouts, OTAs and training camp, these are the new defenders quarterback Jameis Winston and Co. will be lineup up against on a weekly basis to prepare for the real thing this fall.
Hargreaves comes to Tampa Bay via the University of Florida as the Bucs’ first first-round cornerback selection since Aqib Talib in 2008. Expectations are high that the Tampa native and Wharton High alum will transition seamlessly into the NFL and Bucs quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian spoke with the media Thursday about the challenge of game planning for Hargreaves.
“Number one, he’s a heck of a player and I thought that since the first day we faced him and I was excited when we drafted him,” said Bajakian, who came to Tampa Bay last year after going up against Hargreaves in college as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. “Since the first time I saw him, I think he was a freshman if I’m not mistaken, you knew that he had a presence on the field that the quarterback always had to be aware of.”
Bucs offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Todd Monken led off Thursday’s interview session. When asked about how the passing attack can improve from last year, he said there are plenty of areas to be worked on during intrasquad practice and scrimmage sessions.
“[It was a] great year offensively as a start, but penalties, turnovers, errant throws and drops – what else needs to be said?” he said. “There were a lot of points that were left off the board. And when you [improve] that, then you add some consistency to your offense.
“Sure, you can average 24 or 28 points a game, but getting 10 in one game and 38 in another – that’s not very good. You want to be consistent every week, and consistency comes from doing those little things as our young core, our nucleus of players, gets better: the O-Lineman, the running backs, the receivers and the quarterback. Then we should continue to be more consistent.”
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