-Yesterday marked the first padded practice as the Bucs returned from their bye week and it was obvious the players were absolutely ready to go. Coach Koetter said this week that he thought the players were anxious to get back to work and it showed on Wednesday afternoon. The pre-practice huddle before the players split off into their respective position groups was just a little bit longer and I think every guy sprinted over to start individual drills.
-Once the guys got to individual drills Scott Smith and I kind of looked at each other with the realization that everyone was practicing. Even tight end O.J. Howard! He wasn't supposed to be back for another couple weeks at least! I'm starting to think he's some sort of super hero. And while I'm not well-versed in the world of Marvel or DC, I have to imagine there has to be someone that plays bigger than he seems (despite being 6'6" already), has an impossible combination of strength and speed/agility and apparently can heal himself almost instantly… or maybe that's just O.J. Other guys out there were defensive tackle Beau Allen and cornerback Carlton Davis. They were both limited but Carlton needs the reps as he develops his young career and Beau being available could finally mean the d-line rotation we've been waiting to see. The Bucs signed Rakeem Nunez-Roches over the bye week and now have four solid defensive tackles on the interior with Vita Vea, Gerald McCoy and Beau. They were already set at end depth, so fingers crossed.
-Players reacted to left guard Ali Marpet's contract extension. "Ali got PAID and I'm so happy!" were the first words out of left tackle (and Ali's co-host on the Ali & Donovan Show) Donovan Smith in the locker room. Though he may have signed one of the most lucrative deals in history for a Division III player, Donovan was quick to say that Ali will be Ali no matter what. He also mentioned that he asked Ali to give him $3,000 so Donovan could take him shopping – Nordstrom Rack, though. Nordstrom is too expensive.
-Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith took to the podium yesterday after the week of self-scouting by the coaches. He said that the number one thing the Bucs need to fix is pass defense. Which, isn't a surprise. Though rushing numbers are down, when opponents have tried to run the ball, the Bucs have stopped them. They've been able to make offenses one-dimensional, so now it's about defending that one dimension. What was a little more interesting from his press conference was that he sort of outlined his blitzing philosophy.
"It's week-to-week, it's how people are going to protect. Sometimes it's do you want a slow death or do you want a quick death?"
Which is exactly what happened in Chicago. The Bucs got pressure early with Pierre-Paul's sack in the second series, but then the Bears started to max-protect, meaning they used more blockers so Trubisky had more time to pass. When a team goes into max-protection, in order to just have a man advantage on them and make the math work, you'd have to bring eight. That leaves just three defenders for the middle and deep levels. If you don't win that matchup every time, you're going to pay for it. Coach Smith didn't shy away from the fact that there were a lot of communication breakdowns and the defense needs to do a better job but he also said the sky isn't falling and he's right. Now it's time to face a familiar opponent and see how well the Bucs can disguise their defenses and capitalize on the Falcons' struggles.