Second-year cornerback Carlton Davis was asked in Monday's press conference, "Do you think the Bucs can be a better defense this year?"
His response: "I think we are."
That kind of confidence isn't without merit, and it didn't happen overnight, either. Davis was forced into a large role immediately on last year's defense as a rookie out of Auburn. Not only did he have to get used to a new system at a much faster pace, he was asked to play outside of his natural style of press coverage in a defense that favored a more off-coverage approach.
That's a lot to handle for a first-year player and Davis acknowledged that they weren't at their best defensively last season. But adversity happens in football. It's part of the game and every team goes through some type of challenge each and every year. The important part is that you learn from that adversity and grow from it, which is exactly what Davis feels the defense has been able to do. He also feels that the experience he got as a result has aided him on an individual level.
"Last year I got a chance to play a lot, which was really good for me," Davis said. "Everything that I've seen really helped me out. Obviously, being a rookie in my first year in the NFL, [there] was a lot I haven't seen and a lot of things thrown at me early. So, just going through that, the growing pains – really not only me – our whole defense, I feel like we got better going through everything that we went through last year."
With that, Davis also said the focus is now on this year and this new defensive system. It's a system that Bowles himself touted as being tailored to its personnel. It highlights the strengths of each player and aims to help them play off each other as one cohesive unit. Think of it as one gigantic, aggressive puzzle where each player is his own unique piece. Now that it's being implemented, players get to see how much that tailoring rings true and how much of an impact it can have on the energy and effectiveness of the defense as a whole.
"This year, our players are a lot more comfortable with the schemes we have right now," Davis said, despite only being in the fourth day of training camp. "I feel like it fits us better as a defense and our personnel. Practicing in the spring with them and even now in camp, I could just tell our guys are a lot more comfortable in that we are a lot more motivated because we're able to be ourselves and play in a scheme that really fits us."
Perhaps it's because their coach fits them, or fits in with them, rather. Davis called Bowles a 'player's coach,' which only makes sense given Bowles' days in their shoes, spending eight years in the league as a safety with the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers. As an undrafted free agent, Bowles not only won a starting spot his first year in the league, but found himself the defensive signal caller by the next year – a similar role he was used to in college at Temple under then-head coach Bruce Arians. Simply put, Bowles has been seeing the entire field for decades and has spent the better part of that time developing his own system.
"He's really cool. Obviously, he's like a genius when it comes to defense, but he's a really cool guy," Davis said of his coach. "He allows us to be ourselves like I said earlier. I feel like he's a player's coach and he really cares about how we feel as far as the scheme and how we feel as far as his play calling. I feel like he'll lean more towards us when it comes to play calling and really calls plays how it fits our strengths. Having him as a coordinator is a player's dream because he's really a player's coach. He's dedicated to wanting to see us do [well] on the field."
That newfound-ownership over the defense should also add to the motivation Davis spoke about earlier, which will hopefully aid in success on that side of the ball.
"I feel like we can be a really good defense this year," Davis said. "From the schemes to the personnel, I just feel like the ceiling is really high for us. It's all about taking it one day at a time, just growing every day and coming in every day to compete and get better."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.