If there was one position group that held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back from contention over the past two years, it would be hard not to pick the secondary.
Tampa Bay struggled mightily in pass defense in the last season of the Dirk Koetter era, surrendering a league-worst passer rating (110.9), yards per attempt (8.2) and completion percentage (72.5) in 2018.
But under new coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, himself a former NFL safety, the Bucs expect mighty improvement from the back end of their defense.
Asked this week which position group looked most improved through weeks of offseason workouts, Arians complimented the defensive backs. “Probably secondary.
I think we’re really, really good,” Arians told reporters. “With Carlton [Davis] and Vernon [Hargreaves], we knew we had two solid corners, now we’ve got five solid corners. I think Ryan [Smith] came a long way.
So, yeah, I think — earmarked as a problem set back in January, that’s totally fixed. Let’s knock on wood they stay healthy.” The Bucs currently employs eight cornerbacks, and only Hargreaves looks to be a sure-fire starter.
Davis, Smith, M.J. Stewart and rookies Sean Bunting and Jamel Dean, none of whom are over 25 years old, round out the group. At safety, Kentrell Brice, 24, is the oldest of the bunch. He is currently expected to start alongside third-year player Justin Evans.
You can’t say the Bucs didn’t at least try to fix the secondary. Tampa Bay went defense with six of its eight draft picks and drafted defensive backs with all three of their Day Two selections (Bunting, Dean, Mike Edwards).
The Bucs acquired a hybrid player and Arians favourite Deone Bucannon in free agency, as well. While the secondary should improve under the tutelage of Bowles, who oversaw the great Arizona Cardinals secondaries of the mid-2010s led by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, the position group remains incredibly young.
We’ll see come September if one of the league’s most vulnerable units is “totally fixed.”