Smith: Bucs must be ‘a hell of lot better’ on defense

by Gary Shelton on May 17, 2018 · 0 comments

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Mike Smith expects his defense to be better in 2018./CARMEN MANDATO

Mike Smith expects his defense to be better in 2018./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

The task isn't to be better. The job is to be good.

Everyone knows how wretched the Tampa Bay Bucs' defense was a season ago. Heck, there are defenses that are built to last, and defenses that are built to be last.

A year ago, the Bucs' defenders were 11 guys who chased opponents across the goal line. You could have taken their team picture at the end of the first-down chains.

Total defense? Last. Passing defense? Last? Sacks? Last?

"It’s got to be a hell of a lot better than what we put out there last year," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Wednesday. "I’ve said it

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many times, the numbers are not anywhere close to what we’ve to go to do. We’ve got to be more consistent in everything that we do and it starts in the meeting rooms and building trust with one another across the board. I think that’s the most important thing.”

To that end, the Bucs have bought Smith a few new toys. The defensive line is completely rebuilt with Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Vita Vea, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. The secondary could have several new players among M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead.

But new faces are just a part of it. This team has to jell before the season begins.

“We’ve got to be good teammates," Smith said. "That’s one of the things that we’ve been striving to do with this group. We have to be able to talk. We have to build trust amongst each other and that takes time.

"It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen by going out and performing on the field. The first part of the trust starts in the meeting rooms and I think we’ve done a good job of collaborating with each other thus far. We really haven’t had a chance to go out and play football. We’ve lined up against bags and we’ve lined up against what we call ‘stick men.’ So, we haven’t had a chance to really do anything in Phase One and Phase Two in terms of going out there on the field and playing football like we know it.”

Improvement starts on the defensive line, where the team's influx of ability is the greatest.

"We’re excited about that group," Smith said. "It’s a big group of men and I truly believe this: the game of football is always going to be won on the line of scrimmage. We didn’t win on the line of scrimmage as much as we needed to last year and I think this is going to be a great competition with the new guys that we’re adding in. They bring an edge. I like the way that they’re working and they’ve done a good job thus far."

The secondary should be better because of the line. But new faces won't hurt, either.

“I’m excited that we were able to address all three positions," Smith said. "We got a really nice sized corner in Carlton [Davis]. He’s a big, long guy that’s going to help us when we play the big receivers that we’re going to have to face in our division. You know, our division has three really big guys that are the feature receivers. They have multiple other receivers, but he’s a guy that can get up in press and get his hands on guys and be physical at the line of scrimmage(M.J.) Stewart is a guy that we feel can play multiple positions. He’s played inside and outside and as you guys know, we’re in sub-defense about 65-70% of the time, so that nickel position is a starting position. He can also play outside, so he gives us some flexibility. (Jordan) Whitehead is a safety that is a very good athlete. In fact, I was super impressed at the way he played offense there at Pittsburgh. He ran the ball and played on the offensive side as well. He’s a great athlete. He understands football. He’s going to be a guy that can be what I call a hybrid. He can be a strong and a free safety so there aren’t going to be situations where we’re going to feel bad about having him in the middle of the field or down in the box.”

All of it should make the Bucs a better pass rushing team, which will help the linebackers because they will be free and will help the secondary because quarterbacks will have less time to throw.

"We have a lot of different pieces that are going to allow us to do different things based on what the guys can handle,"' Smith said. “We’ve told everybody that we want everybody to come in with the mindset that they’re going to be the starter at their position. Vernon’s position is corner and nickel, corner in base defense and nickel in our sub package. We want these guys to go out and compete. We don’t care where they were drafted, how much they get paid. We’re going to put the best 11 guys out there on every snap and we want these guys to go out and compete against each other from day one."

Defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, a former player himself, said he wants to keep it simple.

"The thing I want them to take (away): Don't make football a science," Buckner said. "Don't make it bigger than what it is. Football's a sport that's based on pure fundamentals: tackling, running, blocking, using good technique. And that's what we work on. A Mercedes is still a Mercedes whether you've got rims on it or not. It's still a very expensive car that gets you where you want to go. We don't have to have all the bells and whistles. We want to play technique-sound football. We want to be true to the game.

"They hit me all the time – I don't do a bunch of drills. I do what helps you in the game. The basics: get-off, hands, knowing what's going to happen to you before it happens to you. Now it's just about, whoop the man in front of you. I've told them before, 'If you can do that, I'm going to be happy.' You're going to win some and you're going to lose some; just make sure you win more than you lose. Then we'll come back, we'll look at it and we'll go over it again. But we're not going to make it something bigger than what it is."

A good rotation, Buckner said, will help.

"The more players you have, the more you trust to go out there, you even out the workload," Buckner said. "So now, if I've been a great player with 60 plays, how much better can I be if I only have to play 35? Now I can play those full-speed, 100 miles per hour. Don't count your plays, just make your plays count. We don't even talk about tiring because we work, each one of my guys works to the point where they could play a hundred plays straight. But now you cut those down, look at the energy you're going to have.

"Because the end goal, it doesn’t matter if I have 1,000 tackles and we're 3-13. The end goal is to win the game. I want the guys on the field who are fresh and give us the opportunity to be the best we can be as a defensive line every snap."

Sound Bites

Defensive coordinator Smith on No. 1 draft pick Vita Vea: A  lot of guys who are 350 pounds look like they're 350 pounds. I don't want to say anything about the guys' physiques. but there are. He looked like a model. He's very svelte. You didn't see the typical 350-pound body. He's a very good athlete. He has heavy, heavy hands. He's explosive off the football."

Defensive line coach Brentson Buckner on Gerald McCoy: "Gerald's a good kid. A well-respected kid. He works hard. He wants to be great. We talked and I said 'Now you have to work it. You get to be 30, it's about playing the game up here (taps his skull). Where you're going to improve is mentally. He wants it, he's hungry for it . I'm challenging him to go to that next level. Not get stronger. Not get faster. But to know what they're going to do to you before it happens. Be smarter about it. I don't know need a superman. I need a lot of super friends."

Secondary coach Jon Hoke on Vernon Hargreaves: "He's got to play better. We have to coach him better. He knows it. We all know it. He's serious enough. It just hasn't translated to the field. He's got to continue to focus on being consistent."

Linebackers coach Mark Duffner on the lack of sacks by Lavonte David and Kwan Alexander: “I think really as much as anything, we’ve got to get better at our technique. Some of that’s timing, some of that’s footwork, some of that’s awareness. So, regardless of any of the other things, it’s our responsibility at linebacker, as blitzers, to make the quarterback feel us. Sometimes, it’s not a sack. You can be a doggone good blitzer, but if you can get the quarterback off the spot or you can get him to hurry throwing the football, that’s a plus. Now, we’d love to get sacks and we’d rather get sack fumbles, but when we blitz, the quarterback has to feel us. That’s when I think that the blitz is not successful if he’s not affected. If we affect the quarterback in a hurry or a batted pass or something, we’d love to get the sack, that’s kind of the ultimate, but anything else that changes their timing is a plus for us.”

Smith on Vinny Curry: Vinny Curry is a hard-charging football player. He's bright-eyed. He's very physical. He has a very fast first step. He can play inside and outside. We love the way his motor goes. "

Buckner on Will Gholston: Will has been great. He was one of the first guys I talked to. He said 'Coach, I think I got a little too big last year.' I told him to do something about it. He's actually 15 pounds lighter right now. The hardest thing to do is to be critical of themselves."

Special teams coach Nick Kaczor on kicker Chandler Catanzaro: “Chandler, obviously, anyone can read the statistics, he’s had two really good years and one that wasn’t as good. So, a guy that’s done it as long as he has, he’s got enough experience where he’s not what you’d say green, but he's not old either. So, I think he’s in the prime of his career. He’s been a consistent field goal kicker. He’s gotten better at his kickoffs and his kickoffs are definitely good enough and as you know, we like to have both good kickoffs and field goals. You want it all and you also know that we’ve had a few kickers here too. So, I think what he’s shown so far is he’s very close to having the skillset to do both very well. I like the way he’s wired and the time I’ve spent around him so far, so again, really happy to have him also.”

Hoke on his second-round draft picks: “It was nice, it was good. We needed to get some guys and Jason (Licht) and the staff did a great job with M.J. and Carlton. M.J. is a guy at North Carolina who played multiple positions. He played outside, he played inside. He moved all over the place and adapted well. He’s a very smart football player. He understands concepts, so that was a big part of it, his versatility and his ability to handle both. Carlton had a lot of different coaches when he was at Auburn. He had three different coordinators and so he adapted. Every style was a little bit different from his freshman year to his sophomore year to his junior year. So, it was good to be able to see him, when you watch him from his freshman year when they played off to his last year when they played more up. So, it was easy to see the skill set that he had. That was good.”



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