The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense had a big turnaround towards the second half of the season, eventually becoming a top ten defense in the NFL by year’s end. A crucial part of that upward trajectory came from the improvement of a group of young corners that consisted of rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, and second-year player Carlton Davis.
Each corner had moments where their game progressed, as Murphy-Bunting made a clutch game-ending pick-six at Detroit, Dean led the entire rookie class with 17 pass breakups in five starts, and Davis had a memorable performance against then Texans wide receiver D’Andre Hopkins, where he held one of the best receivers in the game to just 23 yards.
“The difference was really just keying in and buying into everything he [Todd Bowles] was saying, that coach was doing,” said Murphy-Bunting about the momentum-shifting turnaround when speaking to the media on Wednesday.
“Not only were we watching film, but it’s one thing to watch it and another thing to understand it. As time went on we started to understand more and more what the concepts that we were trying to do as a defense were, and what the concept was that they were trying to do against us as an offense.
“I know for me specifically what I understood, you need a certain defense and when they’re trying to beat us at it, I can show them different things but I know ultimately what I have to do and what they were gonna try to do, it’s just made a lot of things easier when you understand the concept of it.”
Once training camp begins this offseason, the key for the secondary is going to be building upon that success. Murphy-Bunting wants to go from good to great, so there’s one thing in particular that he would like to see the entire secondary improve on.
“We definitely need more turnovers,” Murphy-Bunting said. “That’s what we need to make our secondary known for is creating turnovers and getting interceptions. We had a lot of plays where we were in a position to make plays and we didn’t or we just broke the pass up. Obviously those things are always good, but at the end of the day we all want to be great. So turning some of those PBUs into interceptions and turn those interceptions into pick-sixes, it makes a big difference in a game and it makes a big difference in a season. So that’s what we’re striving to do, to create more turnovers and get our secondary known for that.”
The Bucs chose not to add another cornerback in free agency or the draft this year, instead sticking with the young trio of Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Davis for the 2020 campaign. And that support for them speaks volumes to Murphy-Bunting’s confidence.
“It skyrockets,” Murphy-Bunting said. “Confidence is a big thing as far as being a DB, being a corner especially. It just skyrockets and it lets us know that they have a lot of trust and belief in us as a young secondary. So the sky’s the limit for us and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to be great, and we’re going to compete with each other and we’re gonna compete with our other teammates and push everyone to be great. Because at the end of the day we’re all chasing one goal and that’s the Super Bowl. Just for them to have that trust and belief in us, we have to give it back and show that they made the right decision in doing so.”
The three cornerbacks have built a good friendship over the year both on and off the field. One new thing that they get to experience together this summer is that Tom Brady will be the quarterback that they face in practice each day, so naturally the group has built a friendly competition for who will be the first to pick off the GOAT.
“We’re always competing, just know that,” Murphy-Bunting said. “It’s definitely going to be a big deal to see who picks him off first because they’re never going to let that go. But we’re going to compete, we’re going to see who can pick off the most balls in training camp in general, no matter what quarterback it’s off of, because we do chart production as far as training camp. So if you’re not producing in practice, it’s going to be hard for you.”