Todd Bowles has a job to do, and when it comes to football and his career, that's the only thing on his mind right now.
"I have a desire to get my team ready," he said on Thursday after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 10th practice of their 2021 training camp. "I don't look for the next job. If you look for the next job you don't do the job you have. If something comes up at the end of the year, then that's a discussion but right now it's the furthest thing from my mind."
Bowles' job, which he has handled masterfully for the past two years, is to get the Buccaneers' defense operating at an elite level. And the Buccaneers would like it very much if he kept doing that job for the foreseeable future. As such, Bowles and the team agreed upon a three-year contract extension earlier this week. Much like another highly-respected defensive coordinator in Bucs' history – soon-to-be Ring of Honor member Monte Kiffin – Bowles has found a lot in Tampa that makes him want to stick around.
"Like I said, I love it here," said Bowles. "We've got a great group of coaches that Bruce [Arians] has put together. We've got some good players; they're great to work with. I love the area and the camaraderie. So it's not about being a head coach, it's about being the best coach, [having] a chance to succeed and be happy, and I'm happy here."
Arians came out of a one-year retirement spent in the broadcast booth to take over as the Buccaneers' head coach in January of 2019. At the time, he said he might not have returned to the sideline if a certain group of coaches wasn't available to join his staff, chief among them Bowles. The two had worked together with the Arizona Cardinals in the same two positions before Bowles got the head job with the Jets in 2015. With the job that Bowles has done at the helm of the Bucs' defense for the past two seasons, Arians is happier than ever that his former cohort was available in 2019.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
"I think it starts with individual teaching," said Arians, assessing Bowles' many strengths as a coach. "He can pick guys out that he knows is going to help him and what their deficiencies are as far as learning or whatever. How do they study film? He'll bring them in at 5:30 in the morning individually, or maybe two or three, to teach them how to watch film. His expertise in defense is outstanding. He knows everything, he's seen everything, he's done everything.
"So the X-and-O part, that's probably the easier part for him. It's fitting all the pieces together on guys. What can this guy do, what can that guy do? Where can I create mismatches? Where can I get a guy on the easiest guy to beat on the offensive line? Breaking down protections and things like that. He does just a fantastic job of it."
The Buccaneers finished sixth in the NFL's yardage rankings in 2020, including first against the run for the second year in a row. They were fifth in defensive DVOA as calculated by Football Outsiders and they peaked in the playoffs, particularly in a Super Bowl victory that saw Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes running for his life. The numbers are there, but at the AdventHealth Training Center the relationships are more important, and Bowles has a group of players eager to follow his lead.
"He's the type of defensive coordinator I would run through a brick wall for," said defensive lineman Will Gholston. "If he said, 'Hey, if you hit it at this angle, it's going to fall down,' I wouldn't second-guess it. He's always right."
The Buccaneers are benefitting from nearly unprecedented continuity for a defending Super Bowl champion, with all 22 of its starters and nearly every significant role player back from last year's squad. That continuity also exists with the coaching staff over the past three seasons, and getting Bowles signed to an extension continues that trend. Just as Arians felt back in January of 2019, Bowles knows how much easier it is to get the job done when everyone is on the same page.
"It's great to have the starters back and more importantly the assistants because you don't have to coach coaches or teach anybody," said Bowles. "Bruce has done a great job of giving us situational football over the past couple weeks, as well as last year, and putting every coach in a situation where they have to think. So it's not just for the players, it's for the coaches as well. And to have the same chemistry on the coaching staff back on both sides of the ball, I think, is big."
* Tampa Bay's defense jumped nine spots in the NFL's yardage rankings from 2019 to 2020 while moving up slightly in DVOA from sixth to fifth. If there is a next level for Bowles' crew, it's going to be realized through a better understanding by the players of what their coach is trying to do.
"[It's] just the maturity of situational football," said Bowles. "We have a lot of guys [who] last year I think they just played what I called and this year it's trying to be more understanding of why I'm calling things and what's happening in certain situations. So, we're really trying to focus on that."
It's logical to assume that safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. was one of those players about which Bowles is speaking. He was a rookie thrown directly into the fire and the starting lineup, and he didn't even have any preseason games in which to find his bearings. Nevertheless, he came out of the gate hot, winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in September. He finished the season on a high note, too, with an interception in the Super Bowl. If he can deliver with more consistency in his second season, Winfield could quickly emerge as an NFL star.
"[It's] just the mental growth of the game," said Bowles. "We both know he left some plays out there on the field last year. He's doing his job and playing his position, but he can expand on that, and he will, and he has already some in camp. Just knowing the overall defense and knowing where he can cheat and take advantage of his plays and not just use his athletic ability."
"Yeah, I feel like my most improvement is just mentally," he said. "That first year, they throw so many things out at you just learning the scheme and things like that. But after being in the system for a year, I just feel like mentally my game is just sharper and a little bit better than last year so that's where I feel the best at."
* Rookie offensive lineman Robert Hainsey has sat out the Buccaneers' last two practices with an apparent minor injury. He's probably itching to get back on the field.
"The kid loves football and he's going to be a good football player," said Hainsey's veteran teammate, starting center Ryan Jensen. "Hainsey's definitely shown me some stuff."
Jensen has had a front-row seat as Hainsey has spent the first two weeks of training camp trying to learn a new position. A right tackle throughout his college career at Notre Dame, Hainsey demonstrated at the Senior Bowl that he could seamlessly transition to guard, and now the Buccaneers are working him at center to increase his versatility on game days. Jensen, who was a sixth-round pick by the Ravens in 2014, knows exactly what the rookie is going through.
"That seems like a long time ago for me now," said Jensen. "Same kind of situation with 'Hains.' I was a tackle in college when I got drafted in Baltimore and they immediately just threw me into center and I was swimming, swimming upstream. I was struggling snapping the ball. I played center in high school. That's just something with repetition and knowledge of the game, once you figure that out the game comes a lot slower, it comes a lot easier. Snapping the ball, shotgun, whatever – that's tough but eventually it starts getting second nature and you stop thinking about it."
Jensen spent most of his rookie season on Baltimore's practice squad, appearing in just one game at the end. He stuck on the active roster after that and, after making nine starts over the 2015-16 seasons combined, stepped in as the new starting center in 2017. His performance in his first full season as a starter was so impressive that the Buccaneers immediately gave him a lucrative four-year deal in free agency. He has started every game for Tampa Bay since, including two at left guard last year when the Bucs were dealing with the temporary absence of Ali Marpet.
Jensen understands that there are challenges both mental and physical in trying to learn a new position on the fly while also simply adjusting to the NFL.
"I think there's a little bit of both," said Jensen. "Everybody that comes out of college is usually pretty strong but there's a difference between college strength and NFL strength. Outside, especially playing tackle in college, you're going against 245-pound, 250-pound guys, where you get in the NFL and all of a sudden those outside linebackers [and] D-ends are 285 and 300-plus. Transitioning to the inside, from playing tackle to guard, everything just happens a lot faster and getting that adjustment period along with guys being 320-plus most of the time, there's just a transition from the weight room onto the field, and technique."