Even in just helmets and shorts, the competition has been elavated as the Bucs transition from OTAs to mandatory mini-camp. Both sides of the ball have had to learn a new playbook, and the defense in particular is forming a new, aggressive look.
From drafting rookie defensive backs Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, and Mike Edwards to recently signing Ndamukong Suh, the scheme brought on by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been paying off early.
Quarterback Jameis Winston has seen the improvements firsthand when facing them in practice each day. Each pass that is made has normally been contested, and the different looks and blitz set ups make for a tough battle.
“It’s challenging because they don’t have pads on,” Winston said. “So they got the upper hand right now. Everybody’s showing up for work every single day. They’ve been challenging them well so it’s good that everybody’s stepped up to the challenge and some guys are even fighting through injuries themselves, still playing.”
Winston has been particularly impressed by the young rookie trio. What’s stood out to him really is how quick they’re keeping up with the pace, especially at a position on the Bucs team that doesn’t have much of a veteran presence around them.
“They compete,” Winston said. “That’s all you can really expect. It’s shocking that they’re playing with their feet, they’re not getting too many holding calls, you’re not getting too many pass interference, and for young guys that are practicing like this for the first time, it’s unique.
I’m happy, if you look at them right now, our young guys are out there on the field doing extra reps, not our veterans. When you look at our defensive back room, we don’t have many veterans, after losing Brent Grimes, everyone’s under 24 years old. All those guys are feeding off each other and they’re executing pretty well.”
Bucs’ head coach Bruce Arians has also observed how difficult they are making it for the wide receivers.
“It’s a battle right now,” Arians said. “Not enough receivers are winning one-on-one.”
Winston pointed out one caveat to the upstart progress from the defensive backs.
“When you don’t got Mike Evans out there it’s challenging.” Winston said. “Mike is a jack of all trades, so those guys ain’t got a chance to face him much so we got to put some more fear in their heart.”
Outside of defensive backs, you can also turn to the addition of Ndamukong Suh for a culture shift. Suh was brought in to bring an edge, which the Bucs hope also rubs off on the rest of the defense, such as Vita Vea and Devin White. At each level of the defense, there has been an improvement made.
In a short amount of time even Winston has felt the impact of having a player of Suh’s caliber around this team.
“You just feel his presence in the locker room,” Winston said. “Just a great guy, an NFL vet, and been dominating in this league for a long time. We’re definitely happy to have him.”