Showing Vernon the door
It seems like it was just yesterday that Vernon Hargreaves III was shown the door, and our defensive backfield was still very much in doubt. There was hope, though, with a few rookies that had been brought on board from the NFL Draft that season (2019). Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Mike Edwards were brought in to right the ship. It was a well-known fact that the Buc’s defense was very good against the run, but that you could throw against them all day, especially the big plays. General Manager Jason Licht and new coaches Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles in their first season in Tampa looked to plug the holes from the college ranks.
Young defenders contribute early and often
So far, so good. Dean replaced Hargreaves going on to start 5 games in his 2019 rookie season. The early returns were fantastic. Dean had 17 passes defended and two picks. In that same rookie season, Murphy-Bunting started ten games, having pass defended 8 times with three interceptions resulting in a nice pick-six on one of them. It was clear after their rookie season that Jason Licht had possibly finally found two worthy players to join the fold at cornerback. Carlton Davis was already aboard when Dean and Bunting happened along and has done nothing but get better every season. This past being his best finishing with four interceptions and 18 passes defended.
Winfield starts all 16 games at Safety in rookie season
At the safety position, we also went the distance and struck gold with Jordan Whitehead, who was drafted in 2018; the same season as Davis, who has also developed into a very sound player. Mike Edwards, at times, has had flashes of great play and is a quality backup. Jason Licht, though, wasn’t satisfied at the position and drafted what may have been one of the steals of the draft last season in Antoine Winfield, Jr. Winfield made a huge splash in starting all of his 16 games as a rookie. The young safety out of the University of Minnesota had 94 combined tackles, 64 solos, and an interception. There’s no doubt that talent evaluation (scouting) is still and will always be king in college and professional football. Licht has been pretty much spot-on with that must-have ability as of late. Thanks to him, the missing pieces, including coaching, were brought in that laid the foundation that eventually drew a very special quarterback to Tampa. Had the defensive backfield not been overhauled and improved dramatically, the Brady marriage probably wouldn’t have happened. That is only my opinion, but it does hold some water for sure.
Still getting better
The most encouraging thing about the defensive backfield and other spots on the roster is that they have not reached their potential yet and will continue to improve. Barring multiple injuries, this team should be a decent bit better than the one that took it all last season. We couldn’t have done it without those crucial additions to the defense over the past few seasons. They are young back there but already above average. They made the difference in making our defense complete. I can’t wait to see how they will continue to improve this coming season. We are all ready for some football; bring it on. Go Bucs!!