Bucs CB Brent Grimes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Brent Grimes is the least of the Tampa Bay Bucs’ worries when it comes to a secondary that improved but still underperformed in 2016.
Sure, he’s a month away from his 34th birthday and playing a position with a need for top-end speed, athleticism and agility. But age hasn’t slowed Grimes just yet, at least not last season. The four-time Pro Bowl selection started all 16 games, tied for the team lead with four interceptions and returned one for a touchdown, recorded 57 tackles and forced a fumble.
“It’s a great place, I like it,” Grimes said of preparing for his second season as a Buccaneer. “The way they run it, cool people, obviously I like the coaches. A lot of the coaches carry over from Atlanta and some even from Miami. It’s a good feel, it’s a good vibe, everybody’s comfortable. It’s a close-knit group and hopefully we can keep this going.”
But the Bucs were working in a rookie cornerback opposite Grimes starting Week 1 last season and dealt with their fair share of injuries among fellow defensive backs. That led to a rough start and then some less-than-flattering overall defensive stats against the pass.
The Bucs secondary held each of its eight final opponents to under 300 yards passing but still ended the season ranked 22nd in defensive passing yardage (250.8 yards per game) – one spot behind the Cleveland Browns.
A big reason for the disappointing early season performances was the deep ball and Tampa Bay’s tendency to get toasted. The 58 passing plays of 20 yards or more tied for fourth most in the NFL and the 16 plays of 40-plus yards tied the Bucs with the Oakland Raiders for most in the league.
“We started communicating, getting everybody on the same page – we did that at a better level at the end and it started showing,” Grimes said of the difference between the first half and second half last year. “People making plays, being in the right spot, people knowing what they’ve got to do going into each play. That led to us making some plays.”
Getting more consistent, impactful play from that rookie that started opposite of Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves III, will go a long way in Tampa Bay beginning the season the way they ended 2016.
“Just playing his game, being more comfortable knowing what he’s coming into,” the veteran cornerback said of his position partner who turned 23 on June 3. “He’s going to let his talent take over and make plays. He showed us some last year and he’s just going to improve on that and make some great plays for us.
“I don’t know if it’s about being more aggressive, it’s just about playing ball. You can’t overthink things, you just play. See what you see and play it.”
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Grimes trailed only one other defensive back in total snaps played last year, and that was Hargreaves – 1,037 to 998. Hargreaves also outpaced Grimes in total tackles, 76 to 57, but that was also influenced by opposing quarterbacks attacking the rookie more frequently.
Hargreaves making strides and locking down his side of the field could lead to more opportunities for Grimes to add to his 30 career interceptions. More importantly, however, is what it will do to the entire secondary, Grimes said.
“The league is all about having good players, so if he’s making a lot of plays then that helps our team,” Grimes said. “Not just me, it helps the team. So as he improves, as we all improve, everybody gets better. Him in his second year, he’s seen a lot of stuff, seen a lot of football, he started every game, so with natural progress he can improve.”
The Bucs also added another veteran corner to replace one they released in the offseason, picking up Robert McClain and losing Alterraun Verner. McClain, a 28-year-old, six-year NFL veteran, played with Grimes for one season in 2012 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
“That’s my guy,” Grimes said. “He was in Atlanta with me. But outside of just Atlanta, he’s somebody I’m really cool with. He’s very competitive, too. Love to play, wants to get better, wants to improve every day. He loves football and that’s all you can ask from somebody.
“He can come here in a system that he knows and do some good things.”
I’m sorry, Eric, but defensivr backfields don’t play by themselves … they are part of a whole that depends very much on the pass rush for success. No pass rush, no pass defense, end of story. We all know that in the first half of the season our paas rush was mostly non-existent … in part due to injuries that ravaged our D line early on, and in part due to the entire defense having to learn a completely new defense from a new DC. In particular, Coach Smith’s defense relies competely on gap discipline and good communications between players …. two factors that take time to develop. We also had several key players in each position group on the D – including both starting corners, one of whom was a rookie – who were first year Bucs.
You can’t judge a defensive position group in a vacuum, and with so many new personnel, both coaches and players, on the team, you can’t judge the season based on its first half performance.
This season, the learning curve should not be a factor. Injuries, of course, can bite any team any time.
All parts of a defense play off each other, you’re right. But to say the secondary was aces last year and got exposed solely by a lackluster pass rush? I can’t get on board with that. The non-existent pass rush also produced 17 sacks in the first eight games and 21 in the final eight. Like you can expect from any rookie, Hargreaves progressed as the season did, which helped shore up the entire secondary a bit more. But there’s more to be done on that end, in my opinion.
Eric, I didn’t write or suggest in any way that the secondary played like aces. I wrote that you cannot judge the defensive backfield when the pass rush is non-existent, as it was during the first half of the season.. We lost Smith for the entire season, McDonald missed several games due to injury in the first half as did Ayers, and while our rookie end rusher didn’t miss games due to injury, he definitely lost effectiveness due to a banged up shoulder, as well as being a rookie.
All in all, you can’t fairly judge any part of the defense when the pass rush is missing in action. Defense starts with the pass rush, period. It may well be that VH3’s learning curve last year, which was very steep, occured when the prospects of high performance by the secondary were seriously in doubt as I describe, but that is what it is.
There won’t be any excuses for any part of the defensive this season except injury. The learning curve is now in the rear view mirror. The time to perform starts in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
I think we’re both on the same page. I kept this pretty tightly focused on Grimes, Hargreaves and the secondary in general and didn’t go into the defensive front’s impact on the back end, so you’re correct in making that point. It’s totally valid and we all saw what played out week to week.
Maybe the biggest thing I want to see is a reduction in the big plays. Gonna get burned sometimes, but has to be less frequent. Second year with Smith after finishing pretty strong for the most part. I’m interested, for sure.
I think defensively we are quite a bit better and on the positions that started the same have a whole year already behind them like Vernon and Noah. That’s a great thing I think Baker next to McCoy is going to help the backfield a bunch.
Still have to see it on the field but I’m hoping for NFC champs this season. Breaking the playoff drought will be pretty sweet. Not sure about the Bucs in the Superbowl article that came out but I’d love it too!
Good article Eric
Everyone is down on the CB’s as a group but I am excited about this unit.
Grimes + MClure +Robinson = experienced vets that can play inside or outside
Adje-Barimah + Elliot + Hargreaves = Have flashed as nickel players and Adje/Hargreaves have experience kicking it on the outside.
Bucs have SIX PLAYERS with NFL experience at CB. Not many NFL teams can say that.
Throw in Ryan Smith who is on the cusp?
With Naples making the “no pass rush” excuse for the secondary ; one could also conclude that the lack of coverage on the back end allowed the QB to get rid of the ball quicker because his targets were so open. As Naples said, it all ties together. There’s little doubt that when injuries hit and guys are starting on the D-line that were literally off the street, you can’t expect much.
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