Buccaneers: Comparing the current team to the 2002 champions
2002: Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, John Lynch, Dexter Jackson, and Dwight Smith
Legendary Buccaneer Ronde Barber had a down year in 2002 interception-wise after leading the league the previous season with ten, only picking off two passes (including two more during the playoffs, including this legendary interception against the Eagles courtesy of NFL Films, but he did have 79 tackles, three sacks (one more in playoffs), and 20 passes defended.
Brian Kelly had the best season of his career during the 2002 season getting the chance to start all sixteen games for the first time at left corner but shockingly was not voted to the Pro Bowl.
Having the most tackles of his career with 65, and the most interceptions of his career with eight (leading the NFL) or 36% of his career interceptions, one sack, and 21 passes defended.
John Lynch was what today would be called a “Thumper” at strong safety and was the leader of the secondary playing in fifteen regular season games during the 2002 season with 64 tackles and three interceptions, and was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive season.
After his retirement he was not only put into the Bucs Ring of Honor but also into the Denver Broncos.
Dexter Jackson had the second best year of his career while playing free safety with 71 tackles, three interceptions (two more in the Super Bowl), and one fumble recovery and won the Super Bowl MVP for intercepting two of Rich Gannon’s passes.
Dwight Smith came in and played one of the two safety spots or even corner when needed and helped the secondary with 41 tackles and four interceptions (plus a Super Bowl record two pick sixes).
2017: Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, Keith Tandy, Chris Conte / J.J. Wilcox / Justin Evans
The 2016 corners and safeties improved greatly towards the end of the season and were key in the defensive surge during the five game winning streak.
Brent Grimes proved to everyone that he is not old or washed up and was rated by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as one of the top corners in 2016.
Amassing 57 tackles, with four interception returning one for a touchdown, and with an NFL leading 24 passes defended.
Vernon Hargreaves played every single game in his rookie season and led all corners on the team with 76 tackles, with one interception, and ten passes defended.
Although as to be expected he was heavily picked on as a rookie and Koetter said at the NFL owners meetings that he needs to be more aggressive during the 2017 season.
"“I think, sometimes, Vernon was too content to just cover his guy,” Koetter said. “They threw it to him and he was right there and made the tackle. Instead of, ‘Vernon, scoot up and make that play!’” Koetter wasn’t accusing Hargreaves of being lackadaisical. He believes confidence affected him and that’s why he appeared to play timid at times. “He was making those plays in practice,” Koetter said. “I just think the next step from him is OK, ‘Year 1, I don’t always know what to expect. Year 2, I know what to expect now.’ You’ve got to take the ball away more.”"
Keith Tandy came in at free safety for an injured Chris Conte and pretty much won the job in five weeks and is engrained as the starter heading into the 2017 season.
Making 52 tackles with four interceptions (tying for team lead) while recovering one fumble.
Chris Conte had the free safety job locked up for eleven games during the 2016 season before being injured and losing it to a better playing Tandy.
Prior to that he had 64 tackles, two interception (one returned for a touchdown), and one fumble recovery, and heading into the 2017 season he will complete for the strong safety starting position.
JJ Wilcox was signed in free agency and was expected to play strong safety for the Buccaneers.
While playing as a backup in Dallas he had 55 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble and is now expected to compete for strong safety with Conte and second round pick Justin Evans.
Justin Evans was drafted as a good in coverage great run stuffing safety who before long will most like win the strong safety job.
The 2002 secondary group had future Hall of Famer and future Ring of Honor member and the best corner in team history in Ronde Barber.
Legendary safety, Ring of Honor member and most likely future Hall of Famer John Lynch who is clearly the top safety in the group.
Kelly had a great 2002 season but never really duplicated the results during his Bucs career. Jackson was adequate but not an elite safety, and Smith had moments of greatest during the Super Bowl.
The 2017 secondary group has Grimes who proved last season that he is not washed up and promising young star in Hargreaves but he needs to show more.
The safety group is still a little bit of a question mark if Tandy can continue his output from last season, but strong safety is currently a competition between Wilcox, Conte, and Evans with the Bus planning for Evans to be the future of the position.