That was in the first quote from the first question Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers gave to the media on Wednesday.
Ayers isn’t going to sugarcoat things. He’s not going to BS you. He’s real.
He’s real with himself, he’s real with the players, and he’s real with the media.
“I’ll never think in OTAs that we are good,” Ayers said. “I’ll never think that we’ve accomplished anything. I’ll never feel like we have arrived. I’ll never feel that way. I’ll always think that we’re not a good unit at this point. There’s nothing that’s going to make me think, ‘Oh, we’re tough, we’re ready. We’re ready to kick ass this year.’ There’s nothing that’s ever going to happen in OTAs to make me think that. So with me saying we were terrible last year, I still feel the same way now, but I think we’re improving, I think we’re taking steps, I think we’re getting better. I’m encouraged.”
At 31 years old (about to be 32 in September) Ayers is one of the oldest players on the Buccaneers’ young roster. But, there’s a reason he’s the veteran they chose to bring in. There’s a reason why it was him other over veterans, or, more importantly, him over a younger player who could pan out for longer on the field than him. The reason for that is the same reason he gives the answers he does in questions like the one above.
He’s real – and that’s contagious.
All I ever ask is keep it eight more than 92 with me; 100.” – Drake
Bucs DE-DT Robert Ayers – Photo by: Getty Images
“I don’t really look at it as me being a leader,” Ayers said. “I personally view myself as a guy that, I go hard and my goals are just high. I don’t believe in settling. The idea of another man being better than me at anything has always been something that I hate. The idea of another team thinking that they’re better than us is just something that I hate. I really hate to lose. So enough was enough. I wouldn’t give myself any credit for our turnaround. I don’t know, we just got it turned around, I guess. I just want to win, man, and that’s all it was about.”
Ayers isn’t always going to give you the quotes you always want to hear, but he is going to give you the quotes that he believes. It doesn’t matter if he’s at the podium, in the locker room, on the sidelines or in the huddle. He’s going to tell you what he thinks you need to hear from a man that will do whatever it takes to get the most out of himself, the man next to him, and the whole team.
“[When Jameis Winston got the flag for head butting a defender in the Dallas game] I was going, ‘You stupid mother–,” Ayers said. “He probably said something back; I don’t know. But he’s competitive, man, and that’s what you love more than anything about him. For him to be so young and for him to understand the pressure of being the face of the franchise is huge. I respect it, man. He’s kind of like me in a sense. I’m just a defensive end version of him. He’s out there trying to start fights and push people off piles in a game and stuff. He’s just competitive, and I love competitors.”
Real gonna recognize real, I suppose.” – Jeezy
But, Ayers isn’t cynical. He’s not saying these things to be negative, or the bring out the worst in a situation. He says them because they need to be said. He says them because he expects better – the best. He always will.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say the attitude needs to change, but in my opinion, winning and losing is contagious,” Ayers said. “If you get used to losing, then it becomes the norm. If you get used to winning then you don’t accept anything else. I think we just needed to create an environment of winning, an environment of competing and challenging each other, pushing each other. That’s what I think I kind of brought to the table, because I’m not afraid to say anything to anybody, no matter the stature is or what their level of accomplishments are, or even a coach. I’m not afraid for you not to like me. I don’t really care about being liked. I don’t really care about opinions of me. I just want to win.”
One of the players who hasn’t folded under Ayers’ outgoing demands to be the best is fellow defensive end Noah Spence. Even just a rookie, a vet like Ayers was impressed at the kind of skill and drive Spence showed in his first year, and what it should mean for him moving forward.
Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Being around Noah and talking to him, he’s motivated,” Ayers said. “He has a huge chip on his shoulder. A lot of people might think, ‘Why does he have a chip on his shoulder? He played pretty good as a rookie.’ But for him, he didn’t meet his standards and he didn’t do the things that he wanted to be doing. Talking to him, I know how hungry he is, and I see what type of shape he’s in. I thought last year he was going to be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and a 10-sack guy. Me and him had a little bet going on – I’m not going to tell you what the bet was, but we had a little bet – that he was going to get 10 sacks and I thought he was. He wants to do that and I think this year he’s even more hungry than he was last year. So I’m excited for him. I think he’s a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year – that’s my opinion. Whether he goes and does it is another thing, but that’s how I feel about him because I think he has tools that not many people come into this league with and he’s still learning. I’m excited for him. It’s going to be a big year.”
Keeping it 100 like the purpose is the goal.” – 2 Chainz
Ayers was asked if that’s how he’s going to treat the Bucs prized draft pick O.J. Howard during training camp, as well. For that question, he smiled.
“It’s going to be fun. I’m pretty sure he’s going to bring it back, and that’s what I expect. I expect for him to bring it back, and it’s going to make us all better. That’s my approach to it. I’m not going to try to hurt him or do anything dirty or go out of my character to challenge him, but I just believe that’s what this game is about. It’s about challenging each other, competing and basically trying to weed out the weak. That’s how I look at it.”
In one of the last questions he was asked, Ayers offered up his thoughts about Hard Knocks, and whether he was looking forward to it or dreading it.
“I don’t care one way or another, because at the end of the day I’m going to be who I am,” Ayers said. “I’m going to play ball, I’m going to go hard, I’m going to try to win.”
Ayers wasn’t rude or impolite in his answers, which I know can come off as such for people who are reading a recap instead of being in the media room themselves. He wasn’t a jerk. He just told it like it was. And that’s a needed attitude I can already see from young, key players like Kwon Alexander and Spence. We even heard players like Gerald McCoy and Mike Evans be more out going and honest about what they need to do and who they need to be this offseason. I think Ayers’ realness has a lot to do with that.
It’s not just the years of experience at one of the NFL’s most coveted positions that serves as the single reason Ayers is on this team. It’s not just about the fact that he’s versatile enough to play in a Mike Smith defense.
It’s that he’s real.
The Buccaneers could have brought in a number of veteran presence players on the defense to help mold and mentor this young roster. But, in the end they chose Ayers.
A decision that, after you spend just 16 minutes and 59 seconds with him like we did on Wednesday, was as easy to make as the answers he gave.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com
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