After an average season capped by a strong finish, the Buccaneers defense is looking to find more consistency in 2017. On Wednesday, their coordinator detailed the script to get there.
Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith is generally entertaining when he takes the podium, and Wednesday was no different. Smith talked to the media for twenty-two minutes about a number of topics, ranging from his reasons for staying in Tampa, his opinions on the new rookies, and his idea for improved communication on the field (it involves cell phones).
Smith also discussed in detail several different ways that the defense can improve in 2017. Last season, the team struggled with consistency on defense; they were shredded by the Rams, Raiders and Cardinals, but were stalwart against the Bears, Chiefs and Seahawks. A strong run in the latter part of the season helped the Bucs flirt with the playoffs, but Mike Smith knows they’ll need to improve in several areas in 2017. The first place? Himself.
"First thing is, I’ve gotta do a better job with the players. We had some growth this year. We had some times that it probably didn’t look like we wanted it to look like. So the first thing I think for me personally is I’ve gotta do a better job of getting these guys prepared."
Pretty standard coach-speak from the coach here, but it’s still noteworthy that Smith takes responsibility for some of the on-field miscues last year. Particularly in the early goings of last season the Bucs were plagued by costly missteps in coverage from their safeties. Chris Conte was often times blamed for these miscues, but the combination of Smith’s words and the team re-signing Conte suggests that it could have been growing pains from a new defense.
Mike Smith went on to talk about how preexisting knowledge of the defense from last year to this year will help the defense take the next step:
"I do think that as we’ve started this off-season program, the knowledge that our players have and what they’ve been able to retain from last year to this year. We’re not starting at two plus two is four, we’re in to Calculus….We’re able to install a lot quicker, we’re gonna be able to put in a few more wrinkles and hopefully we’ll be effective."
Smith continued by emphasizing that they know these players now, and can better play to their strengths and around their weaknesses. Smith’s point here is important, because the Buccaneers starting base defense will include eight of last years’ eleven starters in Gerald McCoy, Noah Spence, Robert Ayers, Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Keith Tandy or Chris Conte, Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves.
With all of that combined experience and the addition of veteran Chris Baker and second round rookie Justin Evans, there’s little reason to doubt Mike Smith’s optimism. The Bucs face a tough slate of quarterbacks this season – the obvious gauntlet of the NFC South, along with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Tom Brady – so their communication and comfort level within the defense will be put to the test.
If you want to check out the full press conference, the Buccaneers website has it in full here. What do you think about Mike Smith’s hopes for his defense? Is he being a bit too optimistic, or is he right that the Buccaneer defense will continue to grow?