View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday for the first time in 28 days to take on the visiting Cleveland Browns. Both teams are hovering around .500 and will be looking to start a midseason run to get in the thick of their respective conference races. Cleveland has handed the offensive keys to a rookie quarterback and runs an aggressive defense that leads the NFL in takeaways. The Buccaneers have unleashed the league's most prolific passing attack but is searching for answers on defense after switching coordinators this week.
Throughout the week, Buccaneers players and coaches have discussed the upcoming matchup with Cleveland and other pressing issues. Here's some of what they've had to say:
1. New Defensive Coordinator Mark Duffner on his defensive philosophy:
"I believe our approach has always been we play defense as aggressively as we possibly can. That doesn't define meaning necessarily all blitz or pressure. That means that you play hard, that you play physical, you play smart – all those words kind of go into that word, 'aggressive'. You can play aggressive coverage and be in zone defense. You can play aggressive run defense and not be in a pressure situation, so I think aggressive and physical is what we've got to be on defense. Defense has no room for being soft."
2. LB Lavonte David on how Duffner's promotion will affect the defense:
You can expect a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. That's what we get from him as LBs. I just expect a lot of guys to play their best for Coach Duff. Everybody in the locker room, everybody offensively and defensively, loves Coach Duff's energy and loves his positivity," said David. "So you can expect a lot of fun football."
3. Head Coach Dirk Koetter on the most pressing issue on defense:
"We have to cover better. We played man, we played zone, we played blitz zone. We have to cover better and part of covering better is getting pressure on the quarterback. We've seen the last two teams we've played have both gone to a lot of seven-man protection. I think we are getting some pressure with a four-man rush – four on seven. We did blitz more [in Atlanta]. We did pressure a lot more. We're just giving up too many chunk plays in the coverage in the backend."
4. DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's sack leader with five, would be willing to play multiple spots on the line to help fill some injury-related voids:
"Me personally, I can play all over the board and I do at times. In order for me to do that, I need to be very, very, very comfortable. I know I am comfortable, but sometimes I can't do too much. I can't do too much as a football player. The only thing I can tell you is I go hard every play. If I can play all of those positions I will – you know what I mean. Put me all on the line if I could make clones. "
5. QB Jameis Winston on the Buccaneers' returning to their home field for the first time since Week Three, and his own 2018 debut at Raymond James Stadium:
"Yeah, I'm excited to get back out there in Ray Jay. It's been a long time for me being in Ray Jay, so we've got to bring home a win for them. Last time we were there we were on Monday Night Football. Since then, it's been a month since as a team we've been in Ray Jay. It's definitely going to be exciting to get out there and get that whole atmosphere with the fans. Even watching on TV, I heard we have a beach [Bucs Beach] at Ray Jay now. Even though I'm not going to be able to participate in beach activities, it'll be cool."
6. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken on the Bucs finally finding an effective rushing attack in Week Six, including two runs of more than 20 yards:
"[We] had a couple explosive runs, but the explosives were one half of it. The other was there was also a number of seven-yard runs, six-yard runs, a four-yard run a five-yard run and those are just as important. The toughest part is an explosive and three or four runs that are one and two yards and now your average looks the same, but your situation in terms of the chains is different – in terms of how you call it. To me, that was every bit as important was the explosives we got and then the middle runs."
7. TE Cam Brate on the challenges the Browns pose:
"It's a tough team. They're playing with a lot of confidence. Last week didn't really go so great for them but every game before that they were right in it until the end. They've got a bunch of really good players on defense – Myles Garrett, [Emmanuel] Ogbah on the other side – so it will be a tough task for us trying to protect the pocket and get the run game going. But if we play our game we think we'll have a good chance."
8. TE O.J. Howard on Cleveland's defense:
"They're a very good unit. They lost two linebackers this week, that's going to be very key for them, so we've got to try to figure out who's going to replace those guys. They play hard, [have] a lot of talent and it's going to be a physical game. They've got 95, Myles Garrett, and they've got some other guys that can get to the quarterback. I think if we just do our job and block those guys, give Jameis some time to throw the ball, we'll be fine.
9. Rookie CB M.J. Stewart on if veteran defenders have met with the young players to discuss the issues on defense:
"Yeah, we've met a lot, and the message was basically that this isn't our standard. We're not supposed to play like this, we're supposed to be better than this. We have to help the team out by doing our jobs. In most instances, we just haven't made the plays we're supposed to make. Going forward, we're going to make those plays."
10. Head Coach Dirk Koetter on the challenges of trying to win with a rookie quarterback, as the Bucs did in 2015 and the Browns are doing now with Baker Mayfield:
"Once you've committed to playing any quarterback, for whatever reason – winning the job, veteran quarterback, quarterback injured and you're playing another guy – whatever the reason, once that quarterback's your starter…he's your guy. You build a game plan to attack your opponent and then you have to always base your play-calling on what you see in practice on how your quarterback can execute that plan. You're either going to add to it and give more or you're going to pull back a little based on trust is built and how you execute in practice. And then also how a guy after he plays, what his track record it."