- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were a consistent contender because they played strong defense. The coach will try to get the same result with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the ingredients are there for that to happen.
Smith inherited some special talent in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. Both are just reaching their prime. Smith has compared McCoy to Warren Sapp and David to Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks were the keys to the defense during Tampa Bay’s glory days. The Bucs believe McCoy and David can fill the same roles in the new generation and that a strong defense will help make the franchise relevant again.
McCoy and David are going to be good for years to come and they form a strong foundation. But the Bucs will need some complementary players to come through for this defense to be really good. Defensive end Michael Johnson was brought in as a free agent because the Bucs believe he can bring pressure from the outside. If he does, that’s only going to help McCoy and Clinton McDonald in the middle.
A strong pass rush will only help a secondary that has good potential, but hasn’t hit it yet. Alterraun Verner was brought in to be the No. 1 cornerback, but the Bucs need Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to step up as the other cornerback and nickelback. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have talent and can form a nice tandem.
Middle linebacker Mason Foster is going to get a chance to play a more significant role than he has in the past. Foster will call the defensive plays and be asked to drop into coverage more than he did in his first three seasons.
This defense will be the key factor in determining if Smith’s regime will succeed. The offense can be average, but the defense has to be special.