TAMPA – The Buccaneers got off to a miserable start defensively last year, allowing an average of 394 yards and 27 points per game through the first eight games of the season.
A lack of understanding of coordinator Mike Smith’s complex scheme and poor communication among the players on the field were the primary culprits, but Smith is confident those issues are now in the past.
The fact the Bucs whittled their yards and points allowed to 332 and 17 per game respectively in the second half suggests Smith is right, but there’s more fueling Smith’s confidence than stats.
Less than a month into the offseason program, Smith says his returning players have retained a lot of what they learned a year ago and that their retention should allow the Bucs to come out of the gate humming in 2017.
“We’re not starting at 2+2 is 4,’’ Smith said. “We’re into calculus. And that’s a good thing. We’re going to able to install things lot quicker and add a few more wrinkles, and hopefully we’ll be more effective.
“The big thing for us is, we know these guys now. We know what they’re capable of doing and we’ve also added some guys that are going to help us at all three levels, so we’re very excited.’’
The Bucs added defensive tackle Chris Baker and safety J.J. Wilcox in free agency and safety Justin Evans (second round) and linebacker Kendell Beckwith (third round) in the draft.
All four could wind up starting as soon as opening day, but they’ll have to get up to speed with the defense and learn how to communicate with their new teammates before that happens.
The second part of that equation may seem like the easy part, but based on what he experienced with the Bucs early last season, Smith suggested it could prove to be the more difficult of the two tasks.
“When you’re not sure what your job is, you don’t to talk because guys don’t want to be wrong,’’ Smith said. “But I’ve told the guys, we’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to be more verbal.
“Unfortunately, in our society today, we don’t talk enough. We text a lot. We snapchat. But we don’t talk a whole lot. And I told the guys (last year) that we’d have probably been a lot better if we all took our phones out there and texted one another, that we probably wouldn’t have had the same mistakes that we had.
“But that’s why we made a conscious effort after the Atlanta game last year to communicate better and collaborate and we’ve gotten into a groove with that. Now, we’ve had to go back over it just to make sure everyone understands how we’re doing it here during our offseason program, but that (communication) part is critical for our guys.
“The game has gotten very complicated. Two backs, a tight end in a normal alignment and two wide receivers – that offense doesn’t exist anymore. Teams are putting people all over the field and the offense is working on spacing, so we have to be able to communicate, and the guys have really bought into that.’’
It’ll be months before we see the payoff, but if the Bucs can pick up where they left off defensively, they’re going to be a very hard team to beat on both sides of the ball.