The Tampa Bay Buccaneers conducted their first real practice of 2016 on Tuesday when they opened a voluntary three-day veteran mini-camp. For many years in Tampa, that first offseason workout featured a noticeable imbalance between the two sides of the line of scrimmage. The Buccaneers' defense, commonly enjoying a long run of stability in both personnel and coaching, was usually a step ahead of the offense, which was often in transition.
The tables were turned on Tuesday, however, as Dirk Koetter's offense clearly had a head start on Mike Smith's defense.
"Just watching Mike Smith work today and the frustration – we have the walkie-talkie and we're going fast and you're trying to get the huddle in there, on the offensive side – it should be that way," said Koetter, though he didn't quite agree with the assessment that the offense looked 'well-oiled.' "It should be smooth. We've done it all. Mike Bajakian handled all of the communication on the offensive side – I mean, that's why you practice. This is just a mini-camp, okay. This is just a mini-camp in shorts and nobody is going to win and nobody is going to lose today, but we're making progress towards where we need to get to."
Photos from the first day of voluntary veteran mini-camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Of course, that's Koetter's defense now, too, since he was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach and subsequently brought in Smith as his defensive coordinator. And Koetter knows that Smith and his defensive staff, which is installing a new scheme, is necessarily going to be behind an offense that returns almost all of its core players and assistant coaches from a record-setting 2015 campaign.
There are several new players in key positions on that defense, too, such as defensive end Robert Ayers and cornerback Brent Grimes. They understand that they have a lot to learn but they were eager to get the process started on Tuesday.
"Right now, we're terrible," said Ayers with a laugh. "That's expected at this time of the year. Nobody knows anything. But the thing is, it's expected and you've got guys that are willing to learn. If the staff told you that they wanted to come out here and get 100 percent right, or 90, or even 80 percent of things right, they'd be lying to you. We have high expectations, but the reality is you have to come out here and get better. You've got to have the intent, you've got to have the want-to to come out here and learn. As long as you've got that, it will make up for everything else."
The first step, then, is attitude, and Ayers definitely likes what he sees in that department. A heavily-pursued unrestricted free agent who spent his last two years with the New York Giants, Ayers chose to come to a team that hasn't been to the postseason since 2007, but also one that has a very promising young core of talent. The Buccaneers believe they have many pieces of a playoff team in place, and Ayers thinks they have the desire to get there, too.
"These guys are hungry to win," he said. "Things haven't been going the way this organization wanted it to go the last couple years, but these guys, they want to win. They're eager for knowledge and we have a staff that wants to give it to us. We're embracing the challenge. We have high expectations. This is a group that's ready to win and ready to work, so I love it."