The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started their Week 10 preparations on Wednesday with what was essentially a long walk-through, as Head Coach Bruce Arians wanted to give his players a bit of a rest after a long stretch of road trips and an overtime game in Seattle. After that practice, Arians took to the podium to discuss how the rest of the week would go and the overall state of the team. Here are some of the other topics on which Arians touched:
1. Rookie ILB Devin White is catching up after an early-season injury slowed his initial progress.
White, the fifth-overall pick in last April's draft, opened the season as a starter and the play-caller in the middle of the Bucs' defense but then suffered a knee injury just a few snaps into Week Two. He subsequently missed the rest of that game and all of the next three. Since his return, White has been playing catch-up, particularly in terms of taking over as the defense's quarterback, but he had his most productive game yet in the overtime loss to the Seahawks.
White had a season-best 12 tackles in Seattle and also forced two fumbles and combined with Jason Pierre-Paul on a sack of Russell Wilson. One of his two forced fumbles came on an outstanding hustle play in which he chased running back Chris Carson down in the open field to end a 59-yard run.
"He’s healthy again and he’s turning the corner," said Arians. "He’s caught back up. When a young guy comes out of there and misses two or three weeks, it’s hard to catch back up. Just the speed of the game itself – wearing a brace for the first time in your life – all those little things."
After cornerback Carlton Davis suffered a pregame hip injury in Seattle, White gathered his fellow rookies around to urge them to step up. It's the type of leadership that Arians wants to see from his talented rookie to complement the work done by such veterans as Lavonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul.
"That’s exactly what we drafted him for and expect out of him," said Arians. "We had a long talk last week. When he was out, Lavonte kind of took over. With JPP coming back, [we told him] that 'Hey, you’re still a vocal part of this. I want your leadership, especially with that young group.' So, I was really happy he did it."
2. The young secondary continues to struggle to find consistency but more effective blitzing up front would help the backfield.
The Buccaneers are allowing 31.5 points per game, which is the second-highest average in the NFL. Arians praised the work of his front seven on Sunday but conceded that the results haven't been as good in the secondary, which is not what he had expected entering the season.
"It’s basically on the back end, where we thought we’d be very strong," said the coach. "We’ve made errors mentally in technique and judgment and everything else, so [we’ve been] very disappointing in that way. To have a lead – I’m not used to giving up leads in the fourth quarter, and we’ve done it a few times now."
The Buccaneers tried to make something happen in Seattle with a defensive approach that included a lot of extra blitzers, but Seattle was able to stop most of those blitzes. And, obviously, an unsuccessful blitz leaves a quarterback facing a field with few defenders in coverage.
"Yeah, getting home on those blitzes [was an issue]," said Arians. "We got tentative when [Russell Wilson] broke out of there. We’re sending you, but we’re not sending you to just contain him, especially when we send everybody. We sent everybody twice and didn’t get home. That isn’t the back end’s fault – that’s the guys blitzing."
3. Bruce Arians will face his former team on Sunday.
Almost every coach who has helmed more than one NFL team eventually goes up against the franchise he left behind. It's a ready-made storyline, and this week that applies to Arians and the Cardinals, for whom he was the head coach from 2013-17. However, Arizona is already on its second replacement for Arians and two regime changes have led to a lot of comings and goings on the roster since Arians was last with the team.
"There’s only about eight or nine guys left on that team from when I had them two years ago – pretty good overhaul," he said. "Those guys – it’s always different [and] difficult. I don’t like going against friends, but we’re not friends when it’s kicked off."
4. Arians expects his scorching-hot receiver, Mike Evans, to get a big dose of Patrick Peterson on Sunday.
One of the best defensive weapons Arians had at his disposal while coaching the Cardinals for five years was cornerback Patrick Peterson, who went to the Pro Bowl at the end of each of those seasons. Peterson is one of a handful of cornerback in the NFL who are so effective that their coaches often use them to shadow any particular good receivers their team faces.
Arians expects that to happen on Sunday, and while Chris Godwin is an emerging star with the fifth-most receiving yards in the NFL, the Cardinals are more likely to deploy Peterson on Mike Evans. There isn't a hotter receiver in the NFL than Evans, who has 378 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games.
Peterson missed the first six games of the season while serving a league suspension, but since he's returned he's already been used as a designated number-one-receiver stopper on several occasions.
"Yeah, I would think so," said Arians of the possibility of Peterson shadowing Evans. "We always did it. It was just what we did. He’s been doing a little bit of it in the two games he’s played with [Michael] Thomas and Golden Tate."