Some guys are sugar-coaters and others tell it like it is.
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers identifies with the latter personality type.
“We’re a little less terrible,” the offseason signee said this past week during minicamp when asked to elaborate on earlier critiques voiced since becoming a Buc. “But we’re getting better. That’s all we can ask for. We’re trying to get to the end of the tunnel. Each day is a day to get better, a day to prepare, a day for me and my guys to get to know each other better and grow as a unit and build a chemistry.”
Ayers’ openness got a few laughs and he further explained his stance, but he let it be known that offseason talk and speculation about how good the defense could be doesn’t mean much.
“The reason why I say we’re terrible is because we’re not where we want to be,” Ayers said. “For me it’s 100 percent or nothing and if you’re not 100 percent then you’re terrible. You’re either first or your last. Right now we’re not where we need to be so that’s terrible. I want to be where we need to be. I want to get to the end of the tunnel. I want to get to the big game. I want to win. That’s all I care about is winning, so until we win we’re terrible.”
It’s the type of attitude and honesty that may be needed for a defense that failed to play with consistency last year while surrendering 26.1 points per game. What the Bucs can use even more, however, is Ayers playing up to his three-year, $21-million contract and leading by example with his play on the field.
The former New York Giant and Denver Bronco is preparing for his eighth season and will turn 31 five days prior to Tampa Bay’s season opener in Atlanta. Ayers elevated his value last year by recording career-highs in sacks (9.5), tackles (41), passes defensed (four) and forced fumbles (two). The 6-foot-3, 275-pound edge rusher did that in only 12 games. That’s adds impressiveness but also raises red flags. It was the second straight season Ayers missed four games and he’s played a full 16-game schedule once in seven years.
“Last year was a pretty good year for me but I look at what I could have done better,” Ayers said. “I think I could’ve prepared my body better because I missed four games. I had nine sacks in 12 games but I look at it like, ‘What could I have done if I didn’t get hurt?’ So for me I want to keep my body healthy, I want to improve that.”
In addition to focusing on his fitness and durability, Ayers is being challenged with learning a new system – something he should be used to at this point in his career.
“Not to make excuses for myself but this is my eighth year and I’ve had seven defensive coordinators,” he said. “So being able to do something consistently is important for a player to be able to perform at a high level. Sometimes you get these great players that can just do whatever in any scheme, but for me, I’ve struggled some. Now I think things are starting to be more definitive, I know how to approach the game, coaches know what I can do and hopefully I can continue to do it and continue to get better.”
As for his new teammates on the defensive line, Ayers said he’s looking forward to putting the pads on and showing the league what they can do as a unit.
“I feel like we can compete,” he said. “I’m not just saying this because I’m here now but from the outside looking in I always, ‘Tampa, man, they’re right there. Look at all those guys.’ We’ve got a Big 3 on offense, one of the best defensive tackles in the game in Gerald [McCoy], Clinton [McDonald] who’s been an underrated dog, Jacquies [Smith] who got hurt last year. People are talking about pass rush and that dude [Smith] was beasting until he got hurt. Noah [Spence] can play, Howard [Jones] is super-fast out there, Kourtney Brown, Akeem [Spence] – there’s some talent.
“We’ve just got to do what we need to do, bring the right mindset, and work and get better. And then I feel like we can play with anybody and we can kick anybody’s ass. That’s just my opinion.”