FAB 3. Bucs Must Use A Premium Pick For Pass Rusher

Tampa Bay ranks dead last in the NFL with just seven sacks in six games, and there is no doubt that the Bucs will be addressing the defensive end position early in the 2018 NFL Draft.

No one would be surprised if general manager Jason Licht uses the Bucs’ first-round pick on an edge rusher, especially with Tampa Bay’s defensive ends currently combining for just two sacks this season.

Noah Spence, who suffered another dislocated shoulder in Week 3 at Minnesota and was placed on injured reserve after injuring it again in Buffalo, has one sack in the past 11 games dating back to last year, and that came in the 2017 season opener. One has to wonder what a second shoulder surgery for Spence means for his NFL career.

The other sack came from aging veteran Robert Ayers, who had his first of the year at Buffalo. That was Ayers’ second sack in the last nine games, dating back to 2016. Ayers, who will be 33 by the start of the 2018 season, likely won’t see the final year of his contract, which would pay him $5 million in base salary and $1 million in a roster bonus, as there is no dead cap charge if he’s released in the offseason.

Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

When Licht took over as Tampa Bay’s general manager in 2014 the roster needed to be overhauled and the offense completely rebuilt. Licht has spent five draft picks on offensive linemen and wide receivers, three picks on linebackers, two picks on tight ends and two picks on running backs.

If you want to know why the Bucs’ pass rush is struggling, look no further than the fact that the team has only drafted one – Spence – in Licht’s tenure. Tampa Bay has even drafted more fullbacks (two) than defensive ends (one), and drafted as many kickers (one). The Bucs offense needed the focus, but now it’s the defense’s turn on draft day.

History shows that if a team is going to draft a pass rusher, it’s best to do so in the first or second round. A quick look at the current NFL sack leaders for each team supports that claim, as 19 former first-round picks lead their respective teams in sacks, while five second-round picks are their teams’ sack leaders.

First-Round Sack Leaders – 19
Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Ingram – 8.5 sacks
Arizona: Chandler Jones – 8 sacks
Denver: Von Miller – 7 sacks
Carolina: Julius Peppers – 6.5 sacks
Detroit: Ezekiel Ansah – 6 sacks
New Orleans: Cameron Jordan – 5 sacks
Baltimore: Terrell Suggs – 4.5 sacks
New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul – 4.5 sacks
Oakland: Khalil Mack – 4.5 sacks
Tennessee: Derrick Morgan – 4.5 sacks
Cleveland: Myles Garrett – 4 sacks
Houston: Jadeveon Clowney – 4 sacks
Philadelphia: Brandon Graham – 4 sacks
Pittsburgh: T.J. Watt – 4 sacks
Pittsburgh: Cameron Heyward – 4 sacks
Green Bay: Nick Perry – 3.5 sacks
Atlanta: Vic Beasley Jr. – 3 sacks
Buffalo: Jerry Hughes – 3 sacks
Tampa Bay: Gerald McCoy – 2 sacks

Second-Round Sack Leaders – 5
Jacksonville: Calais Campbell – 10 sacks
Dallas: DeMarcus Lawrence – 9.5 sacks
Washington: Preston Smith – 4.5 sacks
New England: Kyle Van Noy – 3.5 sacks
Atlanta: Brooks Reed – 3 sacks

Third-Round Sack Leaders – 3
Chicago: Akiem Hicks – 6 sacks
Kansas City: Justin Houston – 5.5 sacks
New York Jets: Demario Davis – 2.5 sacks

Fourth-Round Sack Leaders – 5
Minnesota: Everson Griffen – 9 sacks
Cincinnati: Geno Atkins – 4 sacks
San Francisco: Elvis Dumervil – 3.5 sacks
New England: Trey Flowers – 3.5 sacks
Indianapolis: John Simon – 3 sacks

Round 5-7/Undrafted Sacks Leaders – 6
Detroit: Anthony Zettel (6th round) – 6 sacks
Miami: Cameron Wake (Undrafted) – 6 sacks
Pittsburgh: Vince Williams (6th round) – 4 sacks
Los Angeles Rams: Matt Longacre (Undrafted) – 4 sacks
Seattle: Michael Bennett (Undrafted) – 4 sacks
Tampa Bay: Clinton McDonald (7th round) – 2 sacks

At 2-4 after losing three straight games, the Bucs are currently slated to pick sixth in first round of the 2018. It’s a shame to be thinking ahead to the draft in late October rather than the postseason, but here we are, Bucs fans. Unfortunately with 10 games remaining Tampa Bay is closer to a top 5 pick in the draft than it is a playoff spot.

Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell - Photo by: Getty Images
Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell – Photo by: Getty Images

The top defensive end prospect is clearly North Carolina State senior Bradley Chubb, who is 6-foot-3, 275 pounds and has 6.5 sacks this year after recording 10 last year. Chubb, who could be a top 10 pick in 2018, has 44.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one interception in his Wolfpack career.

Clemson’s 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end Clelin Ferrell is a redshirt sophomore that has NFL scouts excited. Ferrell has 11.5 career sacks with 5.5 this year after recording six as a redshirt freshman last year. Ferrell got his first two career sacks against Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson last year. Ferrell had a sack and a forced fumble in a 14-6 win against Auburn and was magnificent in a 27-24 loss at Syracuse with career highs in tackles (nine) and sacks (3.5). He’s viewed as a first-round prospect whenever he enters the NFL Draft.

Ferrell’s Clemson teammate Austin Bryant is similarly sized at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds and has an identical 5.5 sacks on the season along with a forced fumble and an interception. Bryant, a junior who has 9.5 sacks in his career, showed how dominant he can be with a four-sack effort in the Tigers’ win over Clemson.

Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries, a Clemson alum, believes either Tigers defensive end could help Tampa Bay.

“They are carbon copies of each other,” Humphries said. “They are both so athletic. You see them make a play and it’s just one after another. They could change jerseys and you wouldn’t know who was who. Bryant just had an interception – a nasty one-handed interception. They’re just guys who can make plays all around the field. We haven’t had many Clemson Tigers in this locker room. I’m pulling for them. I would love to see some more Clemson Tigers in here.”

Clemson DE Austin Bryant – Photo by: Getty Images

When LSU’s Arden Key is focused he can be a dominant pass rusher, as he showed as a freshman with five sacks and last year with a school-record 12 sacks, including two of the uber-athletic Jackson in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl win over Louisville, and two forced fumbles. But the 6-foot-6 Key weighed 238 pounds last year and he ballooned up to 270 pounds this year following offseason shoulder surgery.

Key is now down to 255 pounds and has 3.5 sacks on the season after missing the first two games, including three and a forced fumble in the last two games. Key was once regarded as the potential first overall pick, but now might slip in the first round if he comes out in this year’s draft.

Another first-round pass rusher is Boston College’s Harold Landry, an undersized 6-foot-2, 250-pounder who had a breakout season with an NCAA-leading 16.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and one interception in 2016. He’s been a marked man in 2017 and has just five sacks and no forced fumbles through eight games. Landry was completely neutralized by two of the top left tackles this year in Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Clemson’s Mitch Hyatt in back-to-back weeks, which didn’t help his draft stock. Landry is still a good prospect, but hasn’t looked as dominant has he did a year ago.

Ohio State’s defensive end of Tyquan Lewis has 20 career sacks, including eight in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, in addition to 3.5 sacks this year. The 6-foot-3, 265-poinder is not as quick-twitch as Key or Ferrell is, and may not be as dynamic as Chubb is, but he’s a quality end that Tampa Bay will certainly be scouting as a potential early-round pick.

Licht and director of college scouting Mike Biehl have to hope that this year’s crop of pass rushers is more productive than last year’s draft class. The 29 total defensive ends drafted in 2017 have combined for an underwhelming total of 19 sacks so far this year. The six first-round defensive ends that were drafted last year have combined for only 10.5 combined sacks.

Bucs GM Jason Licht & Director of College Scouting Mike Biehl - Photo by: Eric Dellaratta/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht & Director of College Scouting Mike Biehl – Photo by: Eric Dellaratta/PR

Myles Garrett, whom Cleveland drafted first overall, leads all rookie defensive ends with four sacks. The other first-round defensive ends were San Francisco’s Solomon Thomas, Washington’s Jonathan Allen, Philadelphia’s Derek Barnett, Atlanta’s Takkarist McKinley and Dallas’ Taco Charlton. Barnett has 2.5 sacks, Thomas has two sacks, McKinley has one and Allen, who was just placed on injured reserve, has one. Charlton has yet to record a sack for the Cowboys.

Joey Bosa, the first defensive end drafted in 2016, had 10.5 sacks for San Diego during his rookie season. DeForest Buckner, who was selected next by San Francisco at No. 7, had six sacks. Leonard Floyd, who was the third edge rusher drafted last year by Chicago at No. 9, had seven sacks.

Wherever the Bucs end up picking in the first round, Licht needs to select the right pass rusher. Tampa Bay needs an instant impact player next year because it will likely be starting over at the defensive end position.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

31 COMMENTS

  1. If Coach Smith does not make significant changes in his scheme, in spite of the terrible performance of his defense, then he will be fired. He may not even make it through week 17. And if Coach Koetter is resistant to leaning on Smith to make a change, and/or if he is reistant to letting Smith go if he does not adjust, and if the end result is 6 or fewer wins this season after everybody expected double digit wins and continued improvement from last seasonn, then the Glazers will fire Koetter.

    If the Glazers fire Koetter, they will likely not extend Licht’s contract. They will end up offering the new head coach control over the roster. particularly if they were to hire Gruden. I believe if they hire Gruden they’ll fire Licht too.

    I am not necessarily advocating any of the above … but this is what the Glazers do. They will keep doing it until they can produce a consistent winner in Tampa. It’s business.

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    • By the way, the Tampa Bay Times just put up an interview this morning with Warren Sapp. He rips the present coaches for not dealing with Gerald McCoy the way that Rod Marinelli worked with him. And says explicitly that Smith is using McCoy all wrong.

      Read it – very damning stuff.

      If this is really what’s going on, and he won’t budge, then Smith needs to go, now.

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  2. Scott, it’s not McCoy’s job to tell his coaches how to best utilize their players talents. That’s what coaches get paid for! If anyone needs to bang some heads for answers it’s Licht. Is Licht deaf, blind, and dumb? Surely he sees what you, and I do. If you know McCoy isn’t happy along with other players, shouldn’t he know it? This is a complete, and utter failure on his part, along with the whole coaching staff. What will the Glazers do? I’ll tell you. They’ll give this crew all the rope they need to hang themselves. Gruden is the wild card, or as he would put it the joker in any changes the Glazers might make. By that I mean if Gruden wants back in it’s a done deal. Firing another staff after two years would make the Glazers look impulsive, and incompetent, but if you fire Koetter for Gruden, who could fault them. Scott you spent some time with Gruden this summer. Did you ever ask him what he’s learned from his time away from the sidelines? What would he do different this time around? I read where he said the Tampa 2 is dead in todays NFL, what would he run? How has his offensive philosophy changed? Would he want complete control over everything, or would he trust whatever G.M. is put in place? I think these are the questions the Glazers are asking themselves, because I think it would be Gruden or bust for them. One other thought. The timing of Grudens induction into the ring, along with the kiss, and make up with the Glazers, tells me they were putting an ace up their sleeve in case this season went where it’s going. Your thoughts.

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    • Surfer,

      The man call himself a “meathead”. Nobody ever questioned his honesty!

      http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/bucs/new-bucs-gm-licht-proud-of-meathead-scouting-roots/2162408

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    • Actually, it IS McCoy’s job to provide honest feedback to his coaches. He is no kid – he is a 30 year old man and a professional and very good at what he does – 5 time Pro Bowler, 3 Time First Team All Pro, anchor of our D-line and leader of the defense, and has been for years.

      If such a member of the team cannot engage in honest discussion and feedback with his coaches, then we a problem – with the coaches. And we know we have a problem with one of the worst defenses in the league this season.

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      • Please provide reference to the “3 Time First Team All Pro.” Which system are you referencing? The Associate Press selection is the only one that matters for HoF consideration, however I realize that there are others out there. Gerald has just 1 First Team All Pro award from the Associated Press writers.

        I have seen many people writing that McCoy has more sacks than any other DT in the league since he was drafted, which is also not true. Suh has 5 more sacks than McCoy over the EXACT same period.

        Gerald McCoy is more popular than good. Absolutely he is talented. But, he has mastered the art of public perception, while doing little for the art of winning when it counts. He is laser focused on getting the glory play, the sack while neglecting the lunchbox plays like tackling anyone not called QB.

        Since coming into the league, Ndamukong Suh has 94 more total tackles than Gerald McCoy. I know tackles are not sexy, but every tackle is a DEFENSIVE STOP. THAT’S 94 MORE DEFENSIVE STOPS. How many times have the Bucs failed to stop a drive that would have won the game with one more stop? Last week comes to mind. In fact, every loss for the Bucs this year except perhaps arguably the Cardinals game could have been won with one more stop. Gerald McCoy is at the middle of the league, tied for 42nd in 2016 for DL tackles, 14 of those were interior lineman. Suh was 7th and his team made the playoffs. Damon Harrison was 1st and his team made the playoffs. Gerald has never made many tackles comparatively, and he has never been to the playoffs. Is there a connection? Defensive stops matter.

        McCoy knows that sacks will get his face in front of the cameras, where he loves to be; nothing make him happier. Sacks get TV time, and help to win the Popularity Contest called Pro Bowls. Gerald knows what makes him happy and tackling a RB is not on the menu it seems.

        Many people question what it is about some fans’ opinion about McCoy; why some fans complain about him. Well, Gerald McCoy is uber talented with one of the best “get-offs” in the league, but he comes off as a Drama Queen, more concerned about people’s perception of him than whether or not his team wins. If you want Gerald McCoy to get angry, say he is not good enough. When have you EVER seen McCoy angry about losing? I cannot recall a single time, yet every year, twice already this year he gets upset because fans say bad things about him. Don’t mess with his popularity is his focus, and winning has nothing to do with it.

        If anyone has ever had a beautiful girlfriend, but she is a diva or drama queen, they can relate. Sometimes no matter how beautiful she is, the drama BS becomes too much. The thing about drama queens is they are never as good as they think that they are, and that fact is compounded by the fact that they will never see it. To them, they are perfect and everyone should see that.

        When Gerald McCoy starts taking over games, making critical stops in the final minuets to win, then he can talk. Until then, he needs to STFU, and earn the right to be the highest paid player on the team, because recently, he has not earned it. JMHO

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        • Long winded way to declare you are a McCoy hater. That’s all we needed to know.

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    • You may also be interested to know where others would rank our GM. See #27.

      http://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/05/nfl-gm-general-managers-rankings-2017-bill-belichick-john-schneider-john-elway

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  3. I’m not sure you’re using the term “gambit” correctly Scott…

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    • Also, the headlines read as if you know what the Glazers are thinking – but Fab 1 is just speculation…

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      • Didn’t you learn in pre-school or kindergarten what a question mark is, and what it means?

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  4. If we draft any DE under a legit 6’3″, it is a big mistake.
    The next 2 games will say it all. Go Bucs! Up to you to show us you can win!

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    • Horse,

      Excuse me for looking at a mock draft so early and as you know everything can and probably will change. This is WalterFootball. I think you will like the pick but like me, hate where we are picking. See Round 1, pick #6. Yikes!

      http://walterfootball.com/draft2018.php

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      • Not going to make you feel much better at #8, but looks like its DE….

        http://drafttek.com/2018-NFL-Mock-Draft-Round1.asp

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      • Macabee; Thank you. I hope we are wrong and the season ends up being better than the way it looks right now. Like some fans, I’m getting too old to be waiting every year for next year to be the year.

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    • Where’s the Beef? Agreed need bigger DE.

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  5. The problem for the Bucs is that Jason Licht has put the team into a position that it has to pick a defensive end in the first round because the Bucs have the worst defensive ends in the NFL.
    I like Jason and I think he has done a lot more good than bad but the Bucs had a glaring need last offseason at defensive end and they did nothing, the Bucs had a glaring need at corner and did nothing. The Bucs also had a glaring need at running back and almost did nothing.

    It is not prudent to put the team in a position where there is such an overwhelming need that the Bucs may be forced to spend two of their first three picks at one position yet still have glaring weaknesses at two other positions(corner and running back).

    If the Bucs have a receiver, tight end, QB, Offensive lineman or line backer at the top of their board when one of their first four round picks come up next year they are going to have to pass on the player because they are in such a dire need at defensive end and corner.

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  6. Never said Licht was dishonest. I think he honestly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Yes McCoy should be giving his coaches feed back, but that’s a lot different then telling them how they should coach, Christ that’s what they get paid for, putting their players in position to be most successful. Isn’t that what Smitty himself said? He said he welcomed feed back from his players, and would run a scheme that fits the talents of his players. That seems like B.S. now, if that’s the line the Glazers bought, they must be feeling buyers remorse.

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  7. A lot of people have short memories. Less than a year ago, most Bucs fans were panicked that we were going to lose Mike Smith to a head coaching position. Now everyone wants his head. This is a fickle game. We’ve lost three games by 5 or fewer points and we had a chance to win all three, even the Arizona game that we once trailed 31-0. Even without a good running game, this offense is on pace to finish in the top 5, perhaps number 1. Koetter is one of the best offensive minds in the league. I’d be disappointed if they fired him unless the Buccaneers lose 10 or more games. New Orleans is built a lot like the Buccaneers except for having a more experienced quarterback. This year they put more emphasis into the defense and they’re hanging in there with a good chance to win the division. We need to hire a new defensive coordinator and use Free Agency and the draft to get some pass rushers, improve the secondary, and find a running back.

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    • It doesn’t really matter what we fans want. It totally matters what the Glazers want. This Fab 5 is about trying to discern what the Glazers might be thinking, and takes into account their history of how and when they make decisions to fire and hire. These are not patient people.

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  8. great info on the upcoming prospects Scott. Are there any elite/proven free agents on the radar next year? I would hope the scouting dept has several guys targeted.

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    • Eric a great place to view 2018 free agents is http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/2018.

      They also give detailed contract analysis of every player in the league and how it impacts the teams salary cap.

      Teams in great cap position next year:
      LA Rams, Colts, NY Jets, Redskins, Browns, 49ers, Lions, Bucs and Vikings

      Teams in awful cap position next year:
      Jags, Cowboys, Dolphins, Raiders, Ravens, Panthers, Eagles, Chiefs and Steelers

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  9. If we are talking draft I would definitely work on the trenches my draft would start with chubb in the 1st then if Maurice Hurst is there at the end of round 1 or top of round 2 I do what i do whatever to draft him cuz he wud b the replacement for McCoy. If hurst is not available there a big corner from aubirn who is big and looks the part of a shutdown cb.Then I look to get a more athletic left tackle or a true center i love ali but he is a guard . Secondary i look at free agency we need bigger cbs trumaine Johnson would b my pick up definitely. And mayb a veteran left tackle. I really feel like we will pick up more wins I really believe we are a 10 win team don’t ask me why I just believe in this team I feel they need a confidence builder and the next two games against familiar foes can b a good thing and help the mental side of the game. Remember we got going against Carolina last year. Go Bucs

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  10. I know that Malcolm passed away in 2014. Had he already passed the torch to his kids? I was just wondering how many of these changes were his and how many were the son’s.

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  11. And, with all of this damning Bucs reporting; they are actually only two games from .500 with all of their division games left. This season is still salvageable. Koetter, get this team back to the schemes from the end of the season start lighting some fires under some a#$es! C’mon, man!

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  12. It’s been well documented lately how the scheme and alignments we are operating under on defense are “inept” and “idiotic”. Makes it hard to evaluate the current talent of players and would stymie any talent we brought in. 1st round draft picks aren’t super human. They still need to be put in positions to succeed or else they become a scapegoat. Even our best, most dominant defender, McCoy can’t succeed in what seems to be a sabotage of a defensive scheme. Vernon Hargraves has been the best DB of the preseason the last 2 years. A place where super secret squirrel schemes aren’t over thought and raw talent can shine. I’d like to see how he’d look with competent coaching in scheme that’s not built to fail and hang young players and seasoned veterans out to dry.

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  13. I remember the days when being 2-4 would have been cause for celebration. I remember the days wishing we just weren’t the worst team. I remember the days when I was happy to score a few points. I remember the days when I got excited that the QB completed 50% of his passes. I remember the days when Punter Dave Green was game MVP. I remember the days there were games we almost won. I remember the days when seeing another orange clad fan was akin to seeing a unicorn. I remember the days when it was inevitable that the Bucs would be on the clock for the first pick the day the season started.

    Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end. Those were the days my friend, Oh no, not again.

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  14. Great article Scott, Don’t that last year the Bucs were struggling defensively then halfway through the DC Mike Smith simplified the defense after which they started winning

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  15. Great article Scott, Don’t that last year the Bucs were struggling defensively then halfway through the season, DC Mike Smith simplified the defense after which they started winning

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  16. Great article Scott, If you remember that last year the Bucs were struggling defensively then halfway through the DC Mike Smith simplified the defense after which they started winning

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  17. No need to worry about Hard Knocks next year, Scott. Teams with new head coaches aren’t required to participate 😂

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