“You were a young d-lineman in this league,” a reporter tacked on to a question to defensive line coach Brentson Buckner regarding what his players need to do to improve this season.
“I was good, too,” Buckner said with a laugh.
Twelve years in the league playing in two super bowls and you can probably say that about yourself. It also qualifies you to evaluate your defensive line as a unit over a Week Five bye, which is exactly what Buckner, and the rest of the coaching staff for that matter, has done. The Buccaneers are sitting at 2-2 due largely to an explosion by the offense through the first three games. It’s left something to be desired with the defense, however, who as a unit ranks near the bottom in yards and points given up through the first five weeks of the season. It’s been a conundrum in that there has been more pressure up front but more overall offense against them overall.
The Bucs have had 22 tackles for loss and eight sacks, doubling their total from this time last season in the latter and upping the former from 16. They’ve gotten hits on the quarterback 29 times through four games They also rank fourth in overall rushing defense and are tied for fourth-most fumble recoveries in the league. And while his unit has seemingly started to do its job, Buckner feels there is much more improvement to be made and the defensive line has only just started to get going.
“I think we’ve been quite average,” Buckner said of his defensive line. “You know I think they’re still working on trying to get an understanding of what I’m asking them to do. They’re working hard. It’s a bitter pill to swallow because some guys are having to change stuff they’ve done their whole career. [I’m] trying to get them to understand it’s better for the team doing it that way.
“They’ve worked extremely hard doing it. We’ve been great at working it, average at what we’ve needed to get done but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. My guys are working hard and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the way they’re working.”
It’s Buckner’s first season with the Buccaneers, as is the case for more than one defensive lineman. The Bucs got handed their bye in Week 5, meaning it’s still relatively early in the season and the process of improving the defensive line and the Bucs’ pass rush in particular is in no way close to complete.
“Football is not instant,” Buckner said. “You don’t put it in the microwave and you become this great player all the time. It’s consistency; things done over and over, day after day after day, breeds consistency.”
One player that has been consistent for the Buccaneers through the first quarter of the season is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. He’s notched four sacks so far and nine quarterback hits. He had his first multi-sack game as a Buccaneer against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week Three on Monday Night Football and even in the Bucs’ loss to Chicago, he was able to get to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for the Bucs’ lone sack of the game. He has been the epitome of consistency on Buckner’s line and it’s largely due to something Buckner himself says he can’t take credit for.
“Jason is a pro’s pro,” Buckner said. “The one thing I can’t coach and I don’t think anyone can coach is that when he steps on the field, he doesn’t think anyone can block him. That’s an attitude that the great ones have.”
Pierre-Paul isn’t the only great one on the defensive line, either. It perhaps makes the struggles of the defense a little more perplexing. As far as the fix, well, that isn’t all up to the defensive line either. But it could start with them as part of the overall effort, as Buckner was quick to point out.
“It’s always a group effort,” Buckner said. “I tell my guys all the time. The best pass coverage is a pass rush. The best pass rush is a pass coverage so it goes hand in hand. There are no fingers pointed, we all have to get better at what we do. If we get better on the d-line, our linebackers will get better, secondary will get better, coaches get better. We all are going to be better so it’s a group effort.”