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Bucs’ defense had a great start; now faces Arizona’s Cardinals

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It’s a team game, but individual players set the tone in the first week for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Talking about his charges, defensive coordinator Mike Smith was effusive in his praise. Of course, with a trip to Arizona this week, it will get harder.

Smith on linebacker Kwon Alexander: “Kwon is an exceptional athlete and he plays the game so hard. We had guys that were running to the football, but when you compare them to Kwon, sometimes they don’t look like they’re going as fast as they need to because he was all over the football field. Reminiscent of some of the great linebackers, to have 17 hits and a sack, a tackle for a loss. He has a will and a desire and when you have that will and desire on the football field, it’s going to show up. He’s a very good athlete and he also has a great desire off the field because he’s not only coming in and sitting down with me every morning, but he’s also getting extra time with (Linebackers) Coach (Mark) Duffner. He just is a sponge right now and he wants to take as much as he can in and we’ve got to go through baby steps. I think he wants it to happen a lot quicker than it’s probably going to happen, in terms of understanding the defense, but he has a pretty good understanding of playing football and getting to the football.”

Smith on tackle Gerald McCoy: “He’s very driven,” Smith said. “He’s a great teammate too. Everybody talks about his leadership abilities, but he’s a great teammate. He’s very focused from day one and he’s wanted to learn our system and have the ability to understand it, so he can help the other guys on the defensive line and he’s done a very good job. Let me make this perfectly clear though: I was very aware of McCoy over the last seven years, playing him two times a year. Sleepless nights figuring out how we’re going to keep him out of our backfield.”

Smith on rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III: “I love his attitude about the next play,” Smith said. “Whatever happens – and especially when you’re a corner – because when it’s a situation where you’ve got to move on to the next play, sometimes guys can’t put it behind them and you’ve got to have that mentality. He had a couple of really good plays in the ball game because he’s got a short memory. As a corner in the NFL, you have to have it because everyone can identify what probably is going on out on the outside, not necessarily what’s going on on the inside.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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