If, as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, you're looking for a reason to be fired up about the team's new-look defense, you should probably take a quick break to watch Robert Ayers' turn at the press podium on Monday.
In fact, the video is above. It's eight minutes long. I'll wait. (Don't worry, a few words have been scrubbed for younger ears.)
WATCH: MONDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES
Ayers himself is clearly fired up – about battling against teammates; about the intensity of his defensive teammates; about the upcoming opportunity to compete against an actual opponent; about being doubted. You name it. The Buccaneers' prized free agent pass-rusher probably gets fired up simply by putting on his helmet.
Ayers and center Joe Hawley obviously got each other a little agitated during the Buccaneers' makeshift Monday morning practice at Tropicana Field, where the team fled to escape a torrential downpour. Their after-the-whistle confrontation during a full-team drill didn't progress much beyond yelling and shoving, and thus it wasn't of much concern to Head Coach Dirk Koetter.
"There are little fracases that break out every day," said Koetter. "These are grown men, they get irritated. We're sitting here preaching, 'Compete! Compete! Compete!" And when you're competing against the same guys every day they're going to get mad at each other. There always accusing each other of holding each other – that's why we had the refs [at practice]. O-Line and D-Line, they're going to be going at it, the receivers and DBs are going to go at it, tight ends and linebackers are going to go at it. These are the most competitive guys in the world – they're professional athletes – so it's going to happen. I don't want anybody to get hurt in a fight but at the same time I understand that it's going to happen. If it's a real fight, they're going to get booted out, but that was just pushing and shoving."
Ayers thinks that brief release of emotion is a sign that the team has cultivated a good intensity level on the field, and that it is more than ready to direct that tension at an opponent in a differently-colored uniform.
"It's just guys competing," he said. "Sometimes you get pissed off. They get pissed off at us and we get pissed off at them. Hands may get thrown, but the way I look at it, that's how it's supposed to be. You're battling against someone every day, you're supposed to be mad. You're supposed to respond with anger and emotion. It happens. The good thing about it is, we've got a lot of pros. It's in the past now, we can move forward and get better.
Pictures from the Bucs' training camp practice on Monday.
"That's what I like about this unit – there are a bunch of guys going at each other's necks, and that's a good thing."
Ayers and his teammates will get their first chance to turn that aggression towards another team on Thursday when the Bucs' preseason opens in Philadelphia. With 90 players on the roster, the snaps could be relatively thin for some Buccaneers, particularly those at the top of the depth chart. Still, it will be a bit of catharsis for whoever is on the field.
"It's an opportunity to come out and take our frustrations out on another team," said Ayers. " Now when you rush you don't have to slow off, and when they're beasting you, they're not going to pull off. It's a good opportunity to go against some guys that don't have that filter, that level of taking care of each other. There's no more of that. There's no holds barred. They're seeking blood and so are we."
Ayers came to the Bucs from the New York Giants, with whom he had nine sacks last year and 14 over the past two seasons. He was brought in, as was second-round pick Noah Spence, to add heat to a pass-rush that has been underwhelming in recent years, even with a star like Gerald McCoy at the middle of it. Though the limited level of contact on the practice field makes it hard to fully gauge where the defense is, it has appeared as if Buccaneer quarterbacks have been under more pressure this summer.
A more intense attitude across the defense may be playing a part in that. Ayers, who described himself as a naturally surly player (in so many words), says the defensive line sometimes gets riled up even before taking the field after watching tape of previous practices and poring over perceived injustices committed by the offensive linemen. He imagines the same thing takes place in the O-Line meeting room.
"I want to win. They want to win," said Ayers. "Only one person can win. It's part of the game. I don't think I'm any different from Kourtnei Brown – he was out there throwing down at the first practice. Or Gerald McCoy – he's out there, he's the same way. Clinton [McDonald], he's the same way. Lavonte [David}. Kwon [Alexander], he's a high-strung guy. I don't consider myself to be any different from anybody else, but sometimes the spotlight is on you. It's just guys competing, it's just guys trying to get better. It's guys trying to win and trying to get the best of the other person.
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The Bucs look like they will have a more aggressive approach under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, and that too may be contributing to the practice field intensity level. Having had a couple months to grow close to his new teammates, however, Ayers feels it has more to do with the personnel.
"Coach Smith, that's the mindset that he brings," he said. "But not just that – there are a lot of guys that were here from last year who feel that way. Lavonte, he wants to win. That dude's a dog; I've seen it from afar. He's a beast. He's one of the best linebackers in the game. Gerald McCoy. Clinton – he's played at the highest level, he's won Super Bowls. Brent Grimes, he's played at the highest level, he's been on great teams.
"The more guys you get like that, the better. We're hungry, man. I see it in a lot of guys' eyes. I see the way Gerald McCoy is out there – that dude's setting the tempo out there. That dude's a monster. And to the offense's credit, they've been competing with them. They're not just taking it, they're giving it back to them. You may see Gerald kicking a lot of [butt] but they're going back at him, too, and that's a good thing. Me, I want to follow his lead. I want to kick [butt] just like him, and Lavonte and Kwon. Competition is contagious. You want to get it, man. You want to win."
Ayers played five seasons in Denver before heading to New York and three of those campaigns ended in the postseason. That's a goal that the Buccaneers have been chasing since their last appearance in 2007. The Bucs have been seeking a return to relevance, and if they don't yet have a lot of believers outside of the Bay area, that's fine with Ayers. David said it first during the offseason and Ayers clearly feels the same way: It's time to prove the doubters wrong."Nobody's believing in us," said Ayers. "'Oh, they're Tampa Bay, whatever, whatever.' But we believe in ourselves and that's all that matters. Nobody's giving us a chance. People are picking us to finish third, fourth in the NFC South. Nobody's picking us to make a run. But we believe in each other. We're going to go out there and kick some butt, and that's how we look at it. We don't care about the projections and this, that and the other. We're here to work, we're here to win."