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.”
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.”