-If offensive linemen are doing their job, you aren't talking about them. That's just how it is for the group that flies maybe the most under the radar of any position in football. But on Thursday, the unit as a whole got the stamp of approval on their play as of late from both their offensive coordinator and assistant head coach/run-game coordinator during media availability.
"I think we've been great, really, all year," Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich said of the line. "I think we had that Thursday night [that] was more of a hiccup and it wasn't the whole game. I really think we protected well for the most part that game really. Things came up throughout that game that made it look that way. We've learned a lot from that game [and] we learned a lot from the mistakes we made that Thursday night. We try to do our best to make sure we don't continue those mistakes."
The game against the Bears in Chicago was the last time the Bucs' o-line gave up any sacks at all. In the two games since, they've clearly learned from their mistakes because they've kept quarterback Tom Brady clean. Don't worry, though. It's not getting to their head. Not when they have a coach in Assistant Head Coach/Run-Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin there to keep them grounded.
"Pretty good – I'm pretty happy with the way they've been protecting the quarterback," Goodwin said nonchalantly. "Schematically, there's nothing changed from this year to last year. It's just I think a lot of guys have a better understanding. Obviously, the quarterback makes a little bit of a difference, but Byron [Leftwich] is calling the same plays he called last year. We just happen to get the ball out and everybody has a year in the offense now, so everybody knows how to operate [and] execute from that standard. Other than that, I'm happy. Run game could've been a little bit better last week, but it is what it is."
And the players themselves are motivated to keep up their recent success. Just ask left tackle Donovan Smith.
"It's really important," he said of upholding the standard they've set for themselves. "I feel like with football – anywhere, all the way down to pee-wee and all the way up to the professional level – you're only going to go as far as your offensive line. We've got five guys out there and we've got to work as a unit. We take pride in that. We're going to continue to keep building, grow and keep doing what we've been doing. The thing we talk about is consistency. If we can consistently do that for the rest of the season, I don't see why not. That's the plan. I feel like it's all up to us."
On the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers are having success in multiple levels of the defense. So much so, that it's kept Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles toggling back and forth between different packages. The Bucs have their base formation which includes the front seven with three down linemen, two outside linebackers, two inside linebackers and four defensive backs. They have their nickel package, which subs out a down lineman in most cases for a defensive back. And then there's the dime package. Which subs out two players from the front seven in favor of fielding six defensive backs. It's hard to choose which to deploy when your front seven is one of the most dominant units in the league but now your secondary is also stepping up to the challenge.
"It all depends on the gameplan, who we're playing that week, how our matchups go and how the gameplan installation goes," said Bowles. "Mike [Edwards] is playing a lot more, obviously. We love Jordan [Whitehead] and we love [Antoine] Winfield [Jr.], as well. You try to combine those three every chance we get, [but] the problem is we've got a front seven that plays well, also. It's hard to take somebody off the field and put somebody else in. We keep tinkering with it, keep tweaking it and try to find the right combinations. Hopefully it works every week."
Speaking of safety Mike Edwards, any time the second-year player has gotten on the field, it seems he is making plays. Against the Raiders in Las Vegas, he nabbed an interception that was called back due to an offsides penalty. He then tipped a pass that ended up being picked off later in the game for the Bucs' only interception of the game. Any package that lets him see the field more, he's in favor of – yes, including the dime package.
"I love that package," said Edwards. "I think DBs love [the] dime package. We can do a lot of things [and] we get to play different roles. We have a safety playing linebacker, you've seen J-White (Jordan Whitehead) – he played D-Line for one play or whatever. We mix it all up and we can make a lot of plays out there. Like I said, we play different positions and it kind of confuses the offense [and] confuses the quarterback because you don't know what guys are doing. [They are] disguising a lot and playing different positions. [I] definitely make a lot of plays back there in that dime package."
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