Buccaneers new-look secondary will turn defense around

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 26: Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scoops up a fumble during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 26: Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scoops up a fumble during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new-look secondary in 2018. Will it be able to turn one of the league’s worst defenses around?

There’s no denying that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the worst defenses in the league last season. The team managed a league-low 22 sacks and gave up 260.2 passing yards per game, the highest mark in the NFL.

General manager Jason Licht addressed the issue during the Draft by snagging three rookie defensive backs. Carlton Davis, M.J. Stewart and Jordan Whitehead.

After performing well in the preseason, the expectations for the rookie trio are sky-high. Davis has locked up the starting outside corner role while Stewart will be in the mix to get snaps in the slot and on the outside as the fourth corner on the depth chart.

Alongside Brent Grimes, the Tampa Bay cornerbacks look drastically different. Instead of starting mediocre players like Robert McClain and Ryan Smith, they have young playmakers that can develop into lockdown cover guys.

Davis has the looks of a legitimate man-to-man press corner. He is tall and loves to play the ball. If defensive coordinator Mike Smith can utilize his strengths, he will be the heir apparent to Grimes.

Each cornerback will be in their correct position as well in 2018. Vernon Hargreaves can move into the slot with Davis and Grimes on the perimeter. The 35-year-old Grimes can breathe easy as well with Stewart behind him ready to step in.

At the same time, Whitehead will push for snaps at safety alongside the second-year standout Justin Evans.

Safety has been a revolving door for the Buccaneers for the past few years. The team has tried to develop players like Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald, but none have become trustworthy options to this point.

The Bucs have also tried to add veterans like T.J. Ward, and they have struck out there as well. Licht turned to the draft and with the hope to find dynamic, talented players like Evans.

Whitehead has the tools to be the answer at safety. Although he is a little undersized 5’10”, 198 pounds, the Pittsburgh product plays much bigger. He’s a willing tackler and has a rare athletic ability which helps him chase down running backs.

While he is indeed raw, his mistakes will only mimic the ones Conte has made in recent years. There will be growing pains that come with Whitehead and the rest of the rookie class. However, the core is in place for a secondary which has been searching for answers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers /

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Of course, potential is a scary thing. If the young players don’t pan out, the entire secondary can go back to square one. No need to worry though. If their play from the preseason is any indication, the secondary should be much improved this season.

Licht started the transformation by adding the trio of rookies, but the evolution of the secondary ended with the release of Keith Tandy and Josh Robinson.

Tandy had a breakout year in 2016, but couldn’t replicate his performance. Robinson was strictly a special teams players and had zero value as a defensive back in run support and coverage.

The Bucs suddenly dropped two players who have been around for a while without any indications or hints from the preseason games or in camp. The move blindsided most of the Bucs fan base.

Nobody expected both players to be cut even when Whitehead played pretty well in the preseason and second-year player Isaiah Johnson flashed.

After processing the moves, it’s clear that Tampa Bay is higher on both of these players than previously thought.

With cut day behind them, the Buccaneers defensive backs are a completely revamped unit. The stars in the front seven will get most of the talk even though the moves the franchise made in the secondary will be equally important in 2018.

An improved secondary could help turn the Bucs defense into a strength. On paper, the front seven should be able to handle the running game. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are a tremendous duo at linebacker. Veteran additions Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry will fit right in next to former All-Pro Gerald McCoy.

Throwing a secondary which can force quarterbacks to throw into tighter windows and can keep a lid on the offense, improvements will undoubtedly be made.

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There are plenty of new faces in the back end of the Buccaneers defense, and hopefully, they can create a new culture within Smith’s scheme.