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Buccaneers' defense has been surging

TAMPA, Fla. -- In a 2-9 season, it’s hard to pick out bright spots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But there has been one area where the Bucs have been trending up for the last month or so: defense. Since Week 8, the defense, which was ranked last in the league at one point, has been dramatically better.

Since Week 8, the Tampa Bay defense ranks fourth in the league in yards allowed. In that same span, the Bucs have recorded 14 sacks, which is tied for fifth in the NFL. In that time frame, Gerald McCoy has 5.5 sacks and Jacquies Smith has four sacks.

The surge by the defense could be a sign of better things to come. But it’s really not a surprise that it took some time for the unit to fully grasp the Tampa 2 defense. McCoy said he talked to former Tampa Bay greats Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks soon after Lovie Smith was hired to coach the Bucs, and they told him not to expect the defense to be great right away.

“Guys that have been in this defense, they just know it takes time," McCoy said.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier agreed the defense takes time to master.

“Part of it is guys having a better understanding," Frazier said. “We’ve been together longer now. They’ve heard these terms a lot more."

Frazier also said some of the defensive improvement can be traced to personnel moves. He pointed to Jacquies Smith and safety Major Wright, who have moved into starting roles.

Frazier also singled out a few other players. He sang the praises of middle linebacker Mason Foster.

“I think he has a better command of the middle linebacker position in this system and what’s required," Frazier said. “You really are the quarterback of the defense in this system. If you don’t have a good grasp of what other people’s roles are, then you are not going to be what we need at the middle linebacker position. He’s become more aware of his responsibilities and the fact that he can’t have tunnel vision and just think about (middle linebacker). He has to be aware of what’s happening with the people in front of him and even the people behind him. He’s grown in that area, and I think it’s helped us improve."

Frazier also said second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks has helped the defense improve.

“He kind of mirrors the improvement of our defense," Frazier said. “You look at the way he has come along, I think it coincides with the rest of our defense. You can see the growth. He’s making more plays. He’s playing with more confidence."

McCoy said the defense’s attitude has changed and the unit has become more consistent.

“The true measure of a man’s mental toughness is consistency," McCoy said. “You want to work to be consistent. The greatest anything is consistent, whether it’s a restaurant, a person’s stats, your momma’s cooking. If it’s great, it’s consistent. I think we’re working to be more consistent and our attitude has changed."