Fair or not, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returning to their Dungy/Kiffin-era defensive roots will continue to attract comparisons.
Head coach Lovie Smith and the Tampa 2 are back, but instead of organizational legends like defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks lining up to execute the scheme it’s the modern-day likes of DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David.
And while former units of the late 1990s and early 2000s eventually coalesced to bring Tampa Bay its first and only Super Bowl championship in 2002, it wasn’t all success from Day 1. Smith, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and current Buccaneer players know installing, implementing and executing this 2014 version of the Tampa 2 is going to be a process that comes with its fair share of growing pains.
“Players like Derrick Brooks … Derrick wasn’t a Hall of Famer right away,” Smith said during a press conference Thursday. “In 1996 Derrick wasn’t picked as a Hall of Famer, they weren’t talking about us as a great defense then; but things can come around fairly quick and I just think that our starting spot right now is a little bit higher up. Again we don’t feel like we’re that far away, but it’s going to take some time.”
McCoy and David, speaking from the locker room after Friday’s abbreviated first day of training camp, agreed that high expectations are welcome for this year’s unit – but within reason.
“Now we have to go put the work in,” McCoy said. “We have to. It’s not going to be an overnight thing. I need the fans to realize that. You can’t expect us to be the 2002 defense with a defense we just learned. That defense wasn’t like that immediately. It took a lot for them to get there.
“But what they did is put the work in. I’ve watched the practice tapes from back then. They worked like no other and Lovie’s bringing that coaching back. We’re just trying not to let them down. They gave us the blueprint, now we just have to stick to it.”
McCoy’s impactful play on the interior line at under tackle is a big part of translating what’s on that blueprint into success on the field. Smith has pegged McCoy as the defense’s lynchpin and the fifth-year tackle is comfortable assuming that role.
“It is the most important position,” McCoy said. “When you see a dominant Tampa 2 defense, right in the center of it is a dominant under tackle. Simple as that. I’m now a quote-unquote a vet, so if this defense is going to go, I have to go. It moves how I move and I love that. Put it on my back.”
David, coming off a breakout season heading into his third year, said Friday that while it’s humbling for current players to have their names mentioned alongside their renowned predecessors, he and his teammates are also busy trying to create some memorable history of their own.
“It takes time,” David said. “For us as athletes, we want to win now. We want to be a great defense now. The past two years we’ve been up there, we were ok. But we want to be at the top. Great defenses win championships and that’s what we’re trying to do to accomplish it.”
David, McCoy, and their defensive teammates – along the coaching staff – have plenty of work to do heading toward the Sept. 7 season opener against Carolina. Among other things, middle linebacker Mason Foster needs to prove his ability to handle a larger pass-coverage role and one of a number of defensive backs must grab ahold of the nickelback position.
But McCoy believes an elite unit exists within the walls of One Buc Place.
“This defense can be No. 1 in the NFL,” he said. “We have that type of talent all over. When we get it down it’s going to be scary for the rest of the NFL.”
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