Each Thursday, the media gets a chance to talk to both the offensive and defensive coordinators. Ahead of the Bucs' road-trip finale in Seattle, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles took to the podium to talk about how the coaching staff can help the team improve and some standout individual performances on defense. Here are some of the highlights:
1. The Coaching Staff is Constantly Adjusting How They Teach
When Head Coach Bruce Arians first took the Tampa Bay job in January, he emphasized that the staff he was bringing in were more than anything, good teachers. He went so far as to call coaches 'glorified schoolteachers' and in a lot of ways, he's not wrong. The players spend an extraordinary amount of time in the classroom learning the offensive or defensive system and then each week to grasp the game plan.
It's up to their coaches to convey that plan accurately and effectively. The only thing is, just like students, not all players learn the same. Luckily, they have a staff that understands that. And though there have been more 'growing pains' than Arians and his staff had hoped for this season, they know the way to fix it starts with them – a notion Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles subscribes to wholeheartedly.
"We teach differently all the time," Bowles said. "You teach it according to how the player can learn it, so it's constant communication back and forth. We haven't had the results we've wanted, but you've got to keep working at it. We're making strides and it's just here and there something that comes up and the breaks haven't gone our way. I think we're close, we've just got to keep churning."
2. JPP Will Be a 'Force' Once He's Fully Caught Up on Defense
In his first game back from a career-threatening neck injury, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul registered a sack in the first snap of the game in Tennessee. Never mind that it was his first down of football in 10 months and he had only been fully practicing with the team for a week prior. While on the non-football injury list, JPP wasn't allowed to practice with the team until the Bucs activated a 21-day window in which he would have to return. Tampa Bay announced Pierre-Paul would enter the window ahead of their bye week, meaning while the rest of his team was off, JPP would take snaps against practice squad offensive linemen awaiting a full week of practice with the rest of his teammates.
Though he wasn't able to practice until then, Pierre-Paul had been around and just his presence brings with it an energy that had its own impact on the team. It didn't go unnoticed by his new defensive coordinator.
"Well, he's great in the locker room," Bowles said. "He's a great leader. He understands the game and he can bring guys along with him, and we have quite a few young guys over there that he can bring with him. He's still working out some kinks, having only practiced for about two weeks now. The energy he brings – when he gets to full tilt, you can see he is going to be a force. Right now, the energy he brings, the experience he brings and the way he approaches the game and attacks the game I think is energetic enough for a lot of guys in the locker room."
3. Vita Vea Has Improved from the Mental Aspect of the Game
A very underrated aspect of the game is how much it takes to process responsibilities and assignments. The more you understand it, the faster you can make decisions, which means the faster you can execute. But the mental aspect of the game comes first, and that's where Bowles has seen defensive tackle Vita Vea take the biggest step forward this year.
"He understands what is coming at him," Bowles said of Vea. "Physically he is a specimen – he can get off the ball and do a lot of things, but if you don't know how they're trying to block you, and you don't use fundamentals and technique, you are going to have a problem. I think his hands are a lot better this year. His knowledge of the game is growing every day. I think Coach [Kacy] Rodgers and Coach [Lori] Locust [do] a great job trying to detail a game plan for him, and he's bought in."
Vea's athleticism has never been a question. He's about as athletic as they come at nearly 350 pounds. But now that he's settled into the defense, he's able to play faster. His impact goes well beyond the stat sheet, too. While he's only registered 1.5 sacks this season, the amount of double-teams he draws on a play-by-play basis opens up so many opportunities for the guys on the outside. Players like outside linebacker Shaq Barrett have directly attributed a lot of their success to the help Vea has provided in getting them favorable matchups on the outside. And he's able to be so effective in part because of the cerebral improvement that's led to better technique.