Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the season with the number one rushing defense in the league. They allowed a mere 1320 rushing yards for an average of 3.5 yards per carry. For the first time in a long time, Tampa finally had a top defensive unit again, or at least the would have if this was the 1920’s.
Unfortunately for the 2012 Buccaneers, today’s NFL has another major aspect to offensive football,the passing game.
Tampa’s fortune against the pass was much more bleak. In 2012 they allowed 410 completions for almost 4800 yards and an average of 7.9 yards per completion. That number was good enough to land Tampa the leagues 32nd ranked pass defense, or worst in the league.
So what went wrong?
When the season began, Tampa looked to have a strong secondary. Aqib Talib survived new Bucs coach Greg Schiano’s offseason cleaning spree that saw the likes of Brian Price, Tanard Jackson and Kellen Winslow leaving Tampa for not fitting the mold of Schiano’s “Buccaneer Men.” On the other side of the defense, Tampa signed free agent cornerback Eric Wright away from Detroit to a substantial deal worth $37.5 million over 5 years.
Tampa also had EJ Biggers returning as the nickel corner, and Ronde Barber was switched to safety to play alongside Tampa’s first round pick Mark Barron. The names looked good on paper, at least until the season started.
In comes the Carolina Panthers. Week 1 would see Tampa facing its division rival as well as 2nd year QB and reigning rookie of the year, Cam Newton. As the game progressed, Tampa fans began to see what the season would ultimately be for the defense. That day, Tampa held Carolina to a total of 10 yards rushing, but allowed 291 yards passing.
As the seasoned progressed, Tampa would allow 9 QBs to throw for over 300 yards. Talib and Wright would see suspension due to the use of Adderall, with Talib eventually being traded to New England for a 4th round pick. Tampa then had to rely on EJ Biggers and Leonard Johnson for most of the season. In the end, they showed promise, but not results.
This offseason, Tampa’s focus was clear. Retool the secondary.
Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
They began by signing former 49er’s All-pro safety Dashon Goldson. Goldson, a 7 year veteran, ended last season with 69 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 3 interceptions, as well as a reputation for punishing receivers over the middle of the field. Goldson alongside Mark Barron, who established his own reputation for big hits last season, immediately created potentially the hardest hitting safety group in the NFL. With these two players, Tampa felt comfortable with their back-end, but not with their corner backs.
Tampa had shown no interest in the free agent cornerback market, believing none where worth the market price. Naturally, fans began to panic, at least until the New York Jets announced they were shopping All-Pro cornerback and future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis.
Then the rumors started.
Immediately, Tampa Bay was linked to Revis. After all, Tampa had the need and the means to not only trade for him, but pay him also. Months went by with conflicting reports, denials, and even doubt as to whether New York was serious about the trade.
As it all wore down, Tampa set a deadline. Tampa would wait until the week of the draft, and if Revis was not already on a plane to Tampa by then, they weren’t dealing.
The Jets felt the pressure, and relented on their firm stance with Revis. They traded the All-Pro corner for what seemed like pennies compared to the player’s massive value, and Derrelle Revis was introduced as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer this past Monday.
But Tampa was not done with the secondary just yet. Last night, Tampa used the 43rd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on another cornerback in Johnthan Banks. Banks won the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back for his play last season at Mississippi State. Banks is a long, rangy corner who has the tools to excel in press coverage, something that is essential for Tampa Bay’s defense.
Banks fell in the draft for what many believe is a lack of top end speed. Even without elite speed, Banks is disruptive at the line of scrimmage, which helps him stay with the bigger receivers of today’s NFL.
Tampa will begin the season with Darrelle Revis, Eric Wright, Jonathan Banks and Leonard Johnson at corner, as well as Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron and Ahmad Black at safety.
With all their off-season additions, Tampa now has options in the secondary. And they could be poised to make a run at being one of the best secondaries in the NFL. At the very least, they’ll be much better than the 2012 secondary, and that’s great news for Buccaneer fans.