When you watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, especially their more recent performances, you can see a confidence and swagger about them. But where did that come from? It’s actually a combination of personal competition between one another and the willingness to lay it out all on the line for each teammate.
Anywhere you look on the Bucs’ defense, you can see a friendly competition. The young secondary is constantly battling for who will have the most interceptions, and Devin White has consistently commented on how he races to the football against Lavonte David to elevate both their games.
The defensive line is no different, as each player is looking to be the first to get to the quarterback and one-up the next guy.
“It’s a lot of trash talk going on amongst each other,” defensive tackle Will Gholston said. “We definitely pull each other to pull the dog out of us all the time when we’re competing. Everybody in the front seven can get to the quarterback. To be able to have that type of caliber of guys – I personally try to compete against [Ndamukong] Suh all the time in any and everything like a little kid brother, I try to compete with him on everything.”
It doesn’t end on the field however, as the competitiveness carries over into the classroom and particularly into the weight room. Fellow defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches has used it as motivation, which has helped him play a big role for the Bucs this season.
Bucs NT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I honestly train as if I’m a starter, even coming in and seeing certain names in front of you,” Nunez-Roches said. “I don’t want to be the person that ‘Oh, the defense folded because I wasn’t ready for my opportunity.’ Or I get an opportunity and then I shambled because I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t do my studies, I didn’t lift, I didn’t run, so it falls into the mud because of me. If Vita [Vea] did something, I tried to do two of them, if Suh did something, I tried to do two of them, so I was competing with everybody. When the injury occurred to [Vea], we just kept rolling because it was something that we prepared for.”
Having a friendly rivalry to boost each other’s game is one thing, but to have each other’s back is another. Luckily for the Bucs, they check both of those boxes, and that’s made the communication between everyone seamless.
“It’s definitely a brotherhood over there,” Gholston said. “We look at each other as brothers, as family, without a doubt, without a question. Even outside of football we can call on each other for anything. Knowing that and having that type of trust and that type of bond, you definitely can know that no matter what, I know that the guy next to me has got my back and he knows that I got his back. It’s easier to play with and for a guy like that.”
Defensively, Tampa Bay has elevated its’ game in the postseason. Sean Murphy-Bunting has three interceptions in three games, while the Bucs defense recorded four turnovers against New Orleans in the divisional round and two turnovers and five sacks on the Packers in the NFC Championship, which included holding Green Bay to two three-and-outs after the Bucs turned the ball over.
To best put it, the Bucs’ defense has brought their own juice on the way to Super Bowl LV.
“I really can’t explain it,” Nunez-Roches said. “It’s times when we’re approaching the field and when we’re first getting out there, Lavonte [David] will tell me ‘Hey, I need your juice. I need you firing off that ball, I need you hitting them, and I got the rest.’ You know, we complement each other. On third down when I’m going out or Suh is coming on and stuff like that – ‘Hey, go get it! Go get that sack!’ We understand what we bring to the game, we know each other, but we play off each other. We love it. We love to see other players on our team have success.
“We’re not selfish, we like to see four-five [Devin White] flying around there getting a sack, we like to see JPP getting an interception, we like to see Shaq with a sack, we like to see Sean touching the ball. At anytime we’re always calling each other out. Go make a play, go do this, it just gives you that extra juice to want to play for yourself and your team. And then we go out there and execute, and when you see us do what we need to do, then you see us celebrate. When we’re having fun, that’s genuine love, that’s a brotherhood that we built from day one.”