You've heard that word time and again. It comes out of Head Coach Bruce Arians' mouth. It's drilled into the heads of players each week of the season and then some. Heck, it's written on the walls of AdventHealth Training Center, not that anyone can see that right now.
And for players like second-year linebacker Devin White, its meaning has become deeper than just some coach-speak. It's a mentality that's instilled a sense of responsibility, bordering on obligation, for the defense as a whole. Because when you add accountability to confidence and belief in yourself, you get the goal: domination.
"Before we signed Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski, any of those guys, me and Coach [Todd] Bowles always said in the offseason as we've been talking and preparing that we [the defense] were going to be the ones to carry the team," White said on a Zoom call Thursday afternoon. "The team is going to go as far as we go.
"We've got to go out there knowing we're going to dominate every team."
White isn't looking to the offense to carry the load and propel the team's success. Though, if he did no one would blame him. The greatest quarterback of all time is equipped with a spoil of riches on that side of the ball; a familiar receiver in Gronkowski, to which Brady owns a 129.6 passer rating when targeting him over their prior nine seasons together; Mike Evans, who will be looking for his sixth 1,000-yard season to start his career, an NFL record; Chris Godwin, who is coming off the best year of his career, totaling nine touchdowns and 1,333 yards on 86 catches and shows no signs of slowing down yet. Plus, Brady has two more pass-catching tight ends in freaky athlete O.J. Howard and red-zone threat Cameron Brate.
That's all well and good to White, but that doesn't mean much in how the defense plans to approach the game this year.
"Whatever we do, we have to always want to put the game on our backs," White said. "We want the game to be on us at the end because we know we're going to come through. We just know that much about ourselves and we believe that much in ourselves as far as a defensive unit. I mean, everybody saw what we did last year and that was our first year together with a new coaching staff and everything; new players, young players, a couple vets and now we want to build off that and we want to just keep striving."
White knows that won't come easy, either. The Bucs' surprise dominance against the run last season was just that: a surprise. Now, it's no secret the Bucs have the number one rushing defense in the league, which means they'll have to continually prove themselves going forward.
While that will undoubtedly make their job harder, the defense has a leg up in other ways. Towards the back half of the season, each piece seemed to fall into place, forming a recognizable defensive puzzle by the end of the year. Consider that after the Bucs' bye in Week Eight, statistically, the Tampa Bay defense ranked in the top 10 – if not the top 5 – in some major defensive categories. In that span, they had the most sacks of any team with 31.0, the most passes defensed with 63, the most quarterback hits with 77, the second-most forced fumbles with 14 and even ranked in the top five in tackles for loss with 52, tied with the Dallas Cowboys.
The foundation is there – and it's built off pressure. A majority of that pressure comes from White and the rest of the starting front seven, all of which the Bucs are returning for 2020. It means continuity. It means familiarity. But most of all, it means the defense gets to finish what they started.
"Going into the 2020 season, we've been doing a lot of virtual meetings and we're in a group text," White said. "Everybody knows we have that chemistry already locked in and we're running the same kinds of plays that we basically mastered at the end of last year. Now, we can build off what we did last year and keep striving."
To continue piecing the puzzle together, the Bucs will need to turn those passes defensed into more interceptions and those forced fumbles into more fumble recoveries. Limiting opponent passing yards is also on that to-do list. And while that may seem like it rests solely on the secondary - it doesn't. No defensive improvement does. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting said last week that getting the front seven back intact means interceptions for them, because what happens up front can create opportunities for what happens on the back end. White knows that, too. He may be confident in the group as a whole, but he's far from satisfied from the effort they put forth last season.
"As far as the front seven, we know we were the number one rush defense in the NFL last year but that wasn't good enough," White said. "I felt like we needed more takeaways from the front seven. It's all the little things. You see what you did great and now you want to improve on your weakness."
Nothing like holding yourself accountable.