NFC South: Ronde Barber
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.
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."
In his 24-minute Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech, Derrick Brooks thanked dozens of people from every stage of his career.
There were plenty of emotional moments, but one stood out to me: when Brooks thanked the late Lee Roy Selmon, the first draft pick and the first Hall of Famer in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Lee Roy set the standard, and we’re just trying to walk the path he set for us," Brooks said.
Selmon was much more than a football player. He was elegant, classy and heavily involved in the Tampa Bay community long after his playing days were over. Selmon left this world too soon, and he left a void in Tampa Bay.
But now that void is being filled. Brooks is as close to Selmon as you can get. Of course, Brooks was a tremendous football player. But, like Selmon, Brooks is so much more. Brooks now is the biggest icon in the Tampa Bay region, but he wouldn’t like hearing that. That’s because Brooks is especially humble.
That was best demonstrated when Brooks asked all his Buccaneers teammates who made the trip to Canton, Ohio, to stand and be recognized.
“Please stand up and let me bow and salute you guys," Brooks said.
Brooks had plenty of help. But, perhaps more than anyone, Brooks was responsible for turning around a dismal franchise.
“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers [were] the team that invented losing," said ESPN’s Chris Berman, who served as the master of ceremonies.
Brooks was drafted in 1995 by a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1982. Joining forces with coach Tony Dungy and teammates such as Warren Sapp, Hardy Nickerson, John Lynch and Ronde Barber, Brooks ushered in the most successful era in franchise history. The Bucs became regular playoff contenders and, eventually, Super Bowl champions.
Brooks last played in 2008, but he’s more visible than ever. Brooks founded a high school in Tampa, does all sorts of charity work and works as the president of the Tampa Bay Storm.
“As a servant leader, I just want to do the best I can to make something better when I come into touch with it," Brooks said.
Brooks always has made the things he comes into contact with better. Selmon started that path, but now it’s Brooks’ turn to follow in the footsteps.
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we’ll feature: Derrick Brooks’ interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII, and Ronde Barber’s interception return for a touchdown in the 2002 NFC Championship Game. Please vote for your choice as the Buccaneers’ most memorable play.
Score: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10
Date: Jan. 19, 2003 Site: Veteran’s Stadium
This was the last game ever played by the Eagles at Veteran’s Stadium, and Philadelphia held a four-game winning streak, including a pair of playoff victories, against the Buccaneers. Jurevicius would make only one catch that day, but it ended up being one of the most emotional and memorable in franchise history.
Late in the first quarter, Jurevicius ran a crossing route and got ahead of linebacker Barry Gardner. He caught Brad Johnson’s pass in stride. Jurevicius was never known for his speed and he seemed to be running forever. He was finally stopped just short of the goal line, but he set up a short touchdown run by Mike Alstott.
“When you put ... a 96-yard touchdown drive together against this defense in Veterans Stadium," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said at the time, "you're kind of like the Lone Ranger, like you're the only person that's done it."
The catch by Jurevicius gave the Bucs an emotional lift and helped them get on a path that led to their first Super Bowl.
@PatYazESPN Joe's play wins for the reasons Ive tweeted. Emotional & memorable in equal measure for what it meant on & off the field.— Lee Bromfield (@LeeBrom) June 9, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days we’ll feature: Derrick Brooks’ interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII, and the 71-yard touchdown catch by Joe Jurevicius in the 2003 NFC Championship Game. Please vote for your choice as the Buccaneers’ most memorable play.
Score: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10
Date: Jan. 19, 2003 Site: Veterans Stadium
The play came with the Bucs holding a 20-10 lead, but Philadelphia was driving. The Eagles had a first-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. That’s when Barber crowded the line of scrimmage to fake a blitz. He then dropped into coverage against the slot receiver and came up with the interception.
"[Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb] fell for it," Barber told the Tampa Bay Times in 2011. “I don't know why. Maybe it was because he just had a great play and thought I was going to blitz. But either way, he believed I was coming and threw it right to me."
The play came with 3 minutes and 12 seconds remaining and put an end to a string of dominance by Philadelphia. The Eagles had won the previous four meetings between the two teams, including playoff losses in 2001 and 2002, the second one prompting the firing of coach Tony Dungy.
But Barber’s play ended all that and it left Veterans Stadium, one of the NFL’s most raucous venues, silent in its final moments.
@PatYazESPN no doubt Barbers int. Close game against our nemesis, at that time, in their house with them driving. That was THE moment— Jesse McGriff (@JesseMcGriff) June 9, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. In the next two days, we’ll feature Ronde Barber’s interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game and the 71-yard touchdown catch by Joe Jurevicius in the same game. Please vote for your choice as the Buccaneers’ most memorable play.
Score: Buccaneers 48, Raiders 21
Date: Jan. 26, 2003 Site: Qualcomm Stadium
This play was about more than a simple interception return. It symbolized what the Bucs were all about. Brooks was the best player on a great defense, and that automatically made this play one of the most memorable in franchise history. Brooks had many other great plays in a Hall of Fame career, but this is the one most fans remember best because it came on the biggest of stages.
This game had a unique backstory. Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden had previously coached the Raiders and knew Oakland’s playbook and tendencies well. He spent the week leading into the Super Bowl playing the scout-team quarterback. That helped prepare the Bucs for everything Oakland threw at them.
The Bucs finished the game with five interceptions, but none was more symbolic than Brooks'.
@PatYazESPN when Gene Deckerhoff says" there's the dagger!", that is something special.— Will Hartley (@BucWillie250) June 9, 2014
Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.
The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.
Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.
“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’
Let's talk about a Mount Rushmore for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There are only four slots available and I'm not seeing anyone on the current roster who deserves that status. There are some current players who can get there, but they're not there yet. That's why I think you have to go back into Tampa Bay's past to determine who deserves to be included.
At least in my eyes, the first three spots are easy. Then, there's a tough call for the fourth spot.
Here are my four choices for a Buccaneers' Mount Rushmore. Feel free to add your thoughts in the accompanying comments section.
Lee Roy Selmon: You have to start with Selmon because he was Tampa Bay's first superstar. He brought respectability to the franchise in its early years and had a Hall of Fame career.
Derrick Brooks: For years, Selmon was unquestionably the best player in franchise history. Selmon's greatness hasn't diminished, but I'd give Brooks the nod as the best player in franchise history now.
Warren Sapp: Like him or not -- and many don't -- you have to give Sapp his props as a player. He was the first Tampa Bay player to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Tony Dungy: This one's a tough call and I had a tough time choosing Dungy over Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Doug Williams, Jon Gruden and John McKay for the final spot. But I'm going with Dungy because he was the first coach to make this franchise consistently respectable. By the way, I'm giving retired tight end Tyji Armstrong special honorable mention for his many contributions.
The veteran defensive backs, who were acquired in the offseason, bring leadership, which is something the team hasn’t had an abundance of in recent years. Cornerback Ronde Barber, who retired this offseason, led quietly by example. Other than Barber, the Bucs haven’t had many obvious leaders.
That has changed with Revis and Goldson. Both are vocal leaders. Even though Revis has been limited as he comes off of knee surgery, he’s been mentoring the younger defensive backs. Goldson already has established himself as a vocal leader in the secondary. And throw in the fact that both have been on winning teams and played in some big games.
“They bring work ethic,’’ coach Greg Schiano said. “Both of them are very strong, hard workers. They don’t take the shortcut; they do it the hard way. That’s a great example for our guys. And they’ve won, they’ve done it at the highest level. They’ve been recognized by their peers, so when you have guys that have those accolades and yet work and are passionate about it, that’s the best kind of leaders.’’
There’s another leader emerging on Tampa Bay’s defense. That’s defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has been getting rave reviews during camp.
“That’s what was great about Gerald’s transformation and becoming a Pro Bowl player,’’ Schiano said. “He always worked like crazy but now he has the accolades to back it up. He actually worked harder this year. I think when you look at the leaders we have some guys that are both talking it and walking it, which is the key.”
What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC South team?
Offense: Reshuffled offensive line
Center Todd McClure retired and right tackle Tyson Clabo was released. The Falcons elected to go with youth and stick with guys already on their roster. Second-year pro Peter Konz should be fine at center after spending much of his rookie season at guard. But the right side is a question mark with Garrett Reynolds ticketed for guard and either Mike Johnson or Lamar Holmes at tackle. If the new starters don’t step up, this offensive line could have problems.
Defense: Pass rush
It seems reasonable to expect defensive end Osi Umenyiora to fill the shoes of John Abraham. But the Falcons need the pass rush to come from other areas, as well. Kroy Biermann likely will be used as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, and he has some pass-rushing skills. Second-year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi also has some potential. But defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might need to get more creative and blitz his linebackers and defensive backs more often.
Wild card: Kids have to be ready
The Falcons used their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. The Falcons need one of them to start right away, and the other likely will get a fair amount of playing time. Opponents are likely to test the rookies, so safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore might have to provide a lot of help early on.
Offense: Establishing an identity
The Panthers opened last season using a lot of read-option with quarterback Cam Newton. After a 2-8 start, they switched back to a more conventional running game and had much more success. I expect that trend to continue under new coordinator Mike Shula. Newton has the skills to be a very productive passer if this offense is executed the right way.
Defense: Secondary questions
Aside from free safety Charles Godfrey, no one has a clear-cut starting position in the defensive backfield. There are lots of candidates, such as Drayton Florence, Josh Norman, Josh Thomas and Captain Munnerlyn, at cornerback. But some of those guys will have to elevate their games for the Panthers to have success in defending the pass.
Wild card: Missing links?
With defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy and linebackers Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, Carolina has the potential to have one of the league’s best front sevens. But that is largely contingent upon rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. If they live up to the hype right off the bat, this front seven could be special.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Offense: Left tackle an open competition
After letting Jermon Bushrod go in free agency, the Saints have a glaring hole at left tackle. Charles Brown and Jason Smith haven’t done much in their careers, and rookie Terron Armstead is also in the mix. The Saints are hoping one of those three can step up. If not, the Saints might have to scramble to find a left tackle elsewhere.
Defense: Unit a question mark
After finishing last in the league in overall defense last season, the Saints brought in coordinator Rob Ryan and switched to a 3-4 scheme. The changes are probably a good thing, mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last season. But it remains to be seen whether Ryan has the type of personnel to make his defense work.
Wild card: Payton’s return
If nothing else, Sean Payton’s suspension last year illustrated the true value of a head coach. He’s back now, and that should be a major positive. Payton is great with X's and O's, but he also is an excellent motivator. I expect Payton and the Saints to use what happened last year as fuel for this season.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Offense: Franchise quarterback?
It clearly is a make-or-break year for quarterback Josh Freeman as he heads into the last year of his contract. Freeman has done some very good things, but he has struggled to deliver the kind of consistency coach Greg Schiano wants. The Bucs have a strong running game with Doug Martin and two good receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. There will be no one else to blame but Freeman if this offense doesn’t prosper.
Defense: Pass rush
The Bucs let last year’s leading sacker, Michael Bennett, walk in free agency. It was a calculated gamble because the Bucs have a lot invested in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers and believe they can be a strong duo at defensive end. They'd better be right. If they’re not, the revamped secondary might not be as good as it looks on paper.
Wild card: Leadership void
Aside from recently retired Ronde Barber, this team hasn’t had a lot of obvious leadership in recent years. Even Barber was more of a leader-by-example type than a vocal leader. The Bucs need some other players to step up. Newcomers such as cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson seem to be the most likely candidates to fill the leadership void.
Dashon Goldson, safety, Buccaneers
What he did in 2012: In helping the San Francisco 49ers reach the Super Bowl, Goldson had 69 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
Why he’s No. 18 in 2013: Signing Goldson was the first big move the Bucs made in the offseason because they believe he can help fix a pass defense that ranked No. 32 in the league in 2012. Last season, the Bucs used Ronde Barber at free safety. Barber did a decent job, but often played in the box and that forced strong safety Mark Barron to end up in coverage more than the team wanted. Goldson is more of a natural center fielder and his presence should free up Barron from deep coverage duties and allow him to take more advantage of his physical style of play. Goldson also is known as a leader and he’s been on some teams that have won big. The Bucs are hoping Goldson’s ability and experience can help improve the entire defense.
For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.
Matt Ryan was in the conversation for Most Valuable Player early last season. The 2013 season still is a long way off, but Ryan already has one MVP vote.
Receiver Roddy White said anything less than a Super Bowl trip for the Falcons will be a failure. I think a lot of people in Atlanta feel that way.
Receivers coach Ricky Proehl had some strong praise for Armanti Edwards and said the receiver has made big strides this offseason. Edwards needs to keep that going in training camp and the preseason, because he’s on the bubble for a roster spot.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Charles Brown, who has had injury problems throughout his career, said he’s completely healthy. Brown worked at left tackle with the first team in this week’s minicamp, and that means he’ll probably open training camp as the starter. Jason Smith and rookie Terron Armstead also are candidates to start at the position. But Brown seems to have the early lead, and can keep it if he stays healthy.
Jeff Duncan writes that Saalim Hakim stood out during this week’s minicamp. There’s no doubt about that. Hakim looked to be the fastest player on the field. He remains a long shot to make the roster, but his speed could end up convincing the Saints to keep him around as a receiver and return man.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber were voted by fans onto Tampa Bay’s edition of Mt. Rushmore.
Demar Dotson said he wants to be the best right tackle in the NFL. That’s a good ambition to have, but Dotson still has a long way to go to get there.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said the Falcons are adjusting well to a bunch of new faces on the defensive line. That’s what the offseason program is for.
Pro Football Focus writes that Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy might be the best tandem of 4-3 defensive ends in the league. If I’m the agent for Hardy, who is headed into the final year of his contract, I’m printing out the line that says “Hardy: No obvious weakness’’ and sending it to general manager Dave Gettleman.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Although mid-round picks from small schools usually aren’t immediate starters, Mike Triplett points out the Saints have some history as an exception to that rule when it comes to offensive linemen. They immediately inserted Jahri Evans into the lineup in 2006. That could bode well for Terron Armstead, who got some first-team work this week.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
As expected, retired defensive back Ronde Barber’s next career will be as a broadcaster. He should be a great fit, because Barber always has been a natural in front of the camera.
You can click here to see some renderings of what the Falcons’ new stadium could look like. It’s pretty impressive, even when they get to the part where the field is configured for soccer.
Mark Bradley doesn’t think the Falcons will slip far in 2013. I’m with him on that. Some people aren’t buying into the Falcons because they haven’t been able to get to the Super Bowl in recent years. But this is a team with a loaded roster, good chemistry and solid coaching. I’ll make my predictions in September, but I can tell you right now I see the Falcons getting double-digit wins.
Joseph Person writes that the move of the NFL draft to May next year is about money. Of course it is. The NFL has done a very nice job of keeping itself in the year-round news cycle, and this is another step in that direction.
Speaking of year-round business, the Panthers are putting their 2013 single-game tickets on sale Saturday.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Sean Payton became the third NFL coach to establish a Twitter account. But I doubt he’ll be sharing many details about his game plans on there.
It is common knowledge that cornerback Patrick Robinson didn’t have a good 2012 season. But teammate Jabari Greer says he believes Robinson can develop into a Pro Bowler. We’ll see on that, but I do think Robinson has more talent than he showed last season. Better coaching for the defense and an improved pass rush would help him.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Safety Mark Barron said he wished that Ronde Barber had come back for another season instead of retiring. The irony here is that Dashon Goldson is more of a natural center fielder than Barber, which should allow Barron to play in the box more, which is what he does best.
Speaking of Tampa Bay safeties, Cody Grimm reportedly was arrested for public intoxication. This is Grimm’s second time in off-field trouble this offseason. Grimm, who already took a cut in pay, was a long shot to make the roster. The off-field issues could hasten his departure.
Daniel Cox puts Jessie Tuggle at No. 1 on his list of the hardest hitters in franchise history. You can’t even argue that one. But I especially like the fact that running back William Andrews made the list. You don’t often see offensive players on lists of hard hitters. But Andrews was a particularly punishing runner.
Pete Prisco’s list of the top 100 players in the NFL contains five Falcons. It also includes five members of the Buccaneers. There are only three Saints and two Panthers on the list.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff will participate in National Bike To Work Day on Friday.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he wants to improve the interior pass rush to help defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. The addition of rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short should help in that area. Lotulelei isn’t a natural pass rusher, but he’s going to command some blocking. Short might have the quickness to generate a bit of a pass rush on his own.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Running back Chuck Muncie has passed away at 60. My memories of Muncie come more from his time with the San Diego Chargers, but he was an important part of Saints’ history. Muncie was the first player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards.
Jeff Duncan takes a look back at Muncie’s star-crossed time in New Orleans.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Charlie Campbell writes that the Washington Redskins had interest in defensive back Ronde Barber, who retired from the Buccaneers last week. The Redskins could have offered Barber a starting position and given him the chance to be reunited with former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, who now is Washington’s defensive backs coach. But the Redskins have virtually no salary-cap room and could not even attempt an offer that would have been lucrative enough to lure Barber.
Roy Cummings writes that, although fifth-round pick Steve Means played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in college, the Bucs plan to use Means as a defensive end. Means might have to bulk up some from the 250 pounds he’s listed at, but he could fill a role as a situational pass rusher.
Defensive end William Gholston, a fourth-round pick, has been signed to a contract. That leaves the Bucs with only three unsigned rookies.
Marc Sessler ranks the Falcons and Saints as the fifth-best rivalry in the NFL. I think you could rank it a little higher. With both teams being good in recent years, this rivalry has escalated. The teams don’t like each other and neither do their fans. That makes for great entertainment.
The Panthers released defensive end Thomas Keiser. He had a productive season in 2011, but was limited by injuries last season and the emergence of Greg Hardy made him expendable.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The team signed six players after they made favorable impressions in the rookie minicamp.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Jeffri Chadiha writes that Ronde Barber, who retired last week, was the most underrated defensive player of his time. There are a lot of mixed opinions on whether Barber eventually belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Count Chadiha as one who believes Barber deserves a spot in Canton.
Speaking of Barber and the Hall of Fame, here’s a numeric look at how his career compared to some other prominent defensive backs.
Part of the reason the Bucs drafted defensive end William Gholston is his versatility. Gholston likely has a shot at a spot in the rotation with starters Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. But he also could line up on the inside at times.