The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have now won three in a row and are looking for their fourth consecutive win during their last road trip of the year to Detroit. The defense has seemingly turned a corner and again sits at the top of the NFL in yards allowed on the ground. They also now have the most passes defensed of any team and have recorded the fifth-most takeaways in the NFL. Rookies have been a huge part of that and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles spoke on the first years during his weekly Thursday press conference. He also touched on a number of other topics, including:
1. Bowles has seen a couple very encouraging things from this rookie class.
The Bucs have had to play their fair share of rookies this year – especially on defense. It was a good thing that all but two of the Bucs' draft picks were on that side of the ball then. With prominent roles for young players, there were some bumps in the road in the beginning, as to be expected. But in the latter half of the season, first-year players are starting to come into their own. Rookie inside linebacker, and first-round pick, Devin White has the most tackles by a rookie since he returned from injury in Week 6. He earned NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for November after a performance in Jacksonville where he not only recorded an interception, but also recovered a fumble and ran it back into the end zone for his first career defensive touchdown. This was all after he had recorded his first (and second) full sack the week before against Atlanta. Rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting leads all rookies in interceptions with two. Fellow rookie corner Jamel Dean leads all rookies in passes defensed. And Bowles has noticed a couple of things that have aided in their development.
"Work ethic I would say is number one with the way they absorb information and get better," Bowles said. "They take it and they study it on their own – they want to be better and they want to be great. Those are the two things I've noticed right now."
2. Rookie inside linebacker Devin White has the potential to be one of the greats.
White was drafted at fifth overall not only because of his athleticism and great tape coming out of LSU but for his leadership qualities and skills. It's a role White has embraced, showing maturity beyond his years as an inside linebacker tasked with helping call the defense on the field. He's often said he doesn't see himself as a rookie and instead tries to act more like a veteran. With his prominent role, Bowles doesn't exactly see him as a rookie either, but also cautions he still has things to learn.
"You're not a rookie when you're playing the whole year, but mentally he has some things to learn," said Bowles. "But he plays fast and he gets better every day. As long as the mental aspect of the game comes for him – which is coming very fast – his ceiling, if he stays healthy, [is one where] he controls his own destiny. He is a very good player. He has a chance to be a great player if he stays healthy and everything goes well."
3. A key addition for the defense has been defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who as a league veteran has made a huge impact on the defense as a whole.
A part of this rookie renaissance the Bucs are coming into in the latter half of the season can also be attributed to veteran guys that have helped show them the way. Captain Lavonte David is one that comes to mind. Another is defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Though he's in his first year with the team, signed as a free agent this offseason, his impact on the young players and on the defense as a whole can't go understated as far as Bowles is concerned. Suh may not have flashy stats as he's had in years past but his ability to eat up blocks and open up opportunities for others is unmatched. He's pretty good in run defense, too, helping the Bucs' to a league low 75.5 yards allowed on the ground per game.
"He has been unbelievable since he came in here," Bowles said of Suh. "I didn't know how intelligent of a player he was, not [having been] around him, but between him and Beau [Allen] in that D-line room helping out the other D-linemen, I think it's been extraordinary from a help standpoint. Him understanding blocking schemes, taking up double teams and being able to move across the line of scrimmage has helped us a great deal. You can see a lot of guys that [have] been in the league for awhile that only do things one way. He learns, he works hard [and] he wants to be better every day. You challenge him mentally, he challenges you mentally and he makes you want to be a better coach because he wants to be a better player."
High praise from his defensive coordinator.