Tom Brady threw just seven passes in the New England Patriots' preseason opener against New Orleans and didn't play at all this past Monday versus Philadelphia. Logic suggests that Brady, in what is typically the week that starters play the most during the NFL preseason, will air it out quite a bit more on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in order to prepare for the upcoming regular-season opener.
That in turn would suggest that the Buccaneers' pass defense, which currently includes a new starter in three of the four secondary positions, will get its most serious challenge of this preseason on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs have quite a bit of talent in that defensive backfield – including former first-round picks at strong safety and left cornerback, a potential Hall of Fame cornerback now playing free safety and a coveted free agent acquisition at right cornerback – but there have been few tests in NFL history tougher for a pass defense than Tom Brady.
However, not everyone in the Bucs' secondary is convinced that Brady will be throwing the ball all night, at least not until the defense proves it can stop the run.
"It's a great challenge for our defense, whether it's run or pass," said Eric Wright, the new starter at right cornerback now that Ronde Barber is at free safety. "This offense can do both. If we show them we can't stop the run, they'll just line up and keep running the ball. That's any team. So first things first we have to go out there and stop the run. Then the hard part on the back end is trying to hold down the pass."
The Bucs did an excellent job of stopping the run in their preseason opener in Miami but had a long night last Friday against Tennessee, giving up more than 200 yards on the ground. Neither game is likely to be a true indication of what the team will do in the regular season – massive substitutions throughout both games makes it difficult to judge how solid the front-line units are at this point – but it's safe to say that fixing the run defense is near the top of the team's to-do list in 2012.
Thus, that prime objective is drilled into the Buc players' heads even with Tom Brady in town. As Wright points out, if the defense is successful in keeping the Patriots' ground game in check, that just means a bigger dose of Brady and company for the defensive backs.
"They have the opportunity and the freedom in their offense to do just about anything," said Wright. "They have running backs that can run the ball and a number of different receivers – the wide receivers and the tight ends – that can catch the ball. They mix it up and do a lot of different things.
"It's just another opportunity for us to get better as a defense. We go up against a guy like Josh Freeman every day, and he's pretty talented. We're just trying to prepare. It's just a preseason game but the starters are obviously going to play a little bit more so we just want to make sure we go out there and handle our responsibilities and play the defense the way it's supposed to be played."