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The modern day NFL has truly developed into a passers’ league, and if you can’t defend against the pass, chances are you will find yourselves picking pretty early in the NFL Draft. Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary was horrendous, and the statistics speak for themselves. The Buccaneers gave up 297.4 passing yards a game (worst in the NFL), which resulted in them being just 38 yards short of the single season record for passing yardage given up. In fairness to the Tampa’s secondary, blame must also be laid at the feet of the Buccaneers’ pass rushers, who notched just 27 sacks (T-30th) and quarterbacks often had plenty of time to allow their receivers to gain separation and make composed throws.
There are now whispers around the NFL however, that the league’s worst pass defense could actually become the league’s best in 2013. Valid? Maybe. Pre-emptive? Certainly.
Heading into this offseason, General Manager Mark Dominik probably only had confidence in one player in his secondary; safety Mark Barron. The Alabama product showed flashes of ability in his rookie season, and is certainly one of the most talented young safeties in the league. Dominik and Head Coach Greg Schiano will hope that he can show more consistency this season, and that the year playing with veteran Ronde Barber helped the younger player develop.
Outside of Barron, there was very little proven talent in the Buccaneers secondary. Corner Eric Wright underperformed last season, whilst also takin
g up a sizable chunk of the salary cap, and Barber, in addition to being 37, was heading into free agency. The Buccaneers had no higher priority than improving their secondary heading into free agency and the NFL Draft.
First up was the signing of safety Dashon Goldson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, potentially adding an effective ball hawk, and the perfect complement to the physical, enforcer-type play of Barron. If you look at the more successful teams on the defensive side of the ball in recent years, they have almost all had a play-making tandem of this type. You need look no further than the San Fransisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers or Seattle Seahawks for evidence.
The next move made, the trade for Darrelle Revis, will likely define Dominik’s tenure as Tampa’s GM. If Revis can return from his injury and replicate the kind of form which has had people labeling him as the best defensive player in the NFL, then the price Tampa paid for him will seem almost insignificant. It’s a question which, at the moment, remains unanswered, and could possibly stay unanswered until his second season with the Buccaneers. If Revis does regain both his fitness and form this season however, there is no better single addition the Buccaneers could have made to improve their woeful pass defense.
Then came the addition of Johnathan Banks in the second round of the NFL Draft, and despite not grabbing the same headlines that the arrivals of Goldson and Revis did, Banks could prove to be a very good move by Dominik. A tall, rangy corner, Banks is reminiscent of Richard Sherman, and could prove to be a valued press corner in the NFL. He will probably need to put on some more muscle to be as effective in the pro game as he was in college, but he certainly has the talent and mentality to be a success.
It is almost unthinkable to presume the Buccaneers pass defense will not improve. They have added key veterans and a solid rookie, whilst they will also be confident of an improved showing from their defensive line. However, the question posed was: can the Buccaneers secondary be the best in the league? And the short answer is no. There is little to no quality depth behind the starters, meaning that an injury to Barron, Goldson, Revis or Banks would be hugely impactful. It is also arguably a year or two too soon, with Barron and Banks still inexperienced.
That being said, if the Buccaneers can keep this group together, and perhaps add a dominant pass rusher, there is no reason why this same question won’t receive a different answer in a season or two.
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