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Bucs expect to have a more impressive defense in 2016

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In free agency, most of the eyes in Tampa Bay were on defense.

In the draft, most of the eyes in Tampa Bay were on defense.

Now that the season approaches, guess what? Most of the eyes in Tampa Bay are still on the Bucs’ defense.

Tampa Bay’s defense was a flawed one in 2015, unable to cover tightly or get a relentless pass rush from the edge. Additions such as cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes, and defensive ends Robert Ayers and Noah Spence should help.

But in Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman and wide receiver Julio Jones, the Bucs have a legitimate challenge.

What does trying to stop his old quarterback mean for Bucs’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith?

“A lot of sleepless nights,” Smith said. “They’re very good. They’re three very outstanding football players and if they get going, they can make it be a long day for you. We’ve had an opportunity to put in our preparation and now we’re going to get an opportunity to go and play and see how we execute.”

The Bucs were second in the NFL in preseason defense and first in sacks with 16.

“I don’t want to put a whole lot of stock (into) what happens in the preseason,” Smith said. “I’m very pleased and we’re very pleased as a staff with the production that we had in the preseason. There were a number of guys that were able to contribute to the numbers that we were able to put up in the preseason. I think the rotation — I think (Defensive Line Coach) Jay Hayes does a great job with the rotation. We’ve got to keep our guys fresh. When you’re rushing a passer, it’s probably the most draining physical thing that you do on a football field.”

Koetter said fans will notice a difference with Smith’s defense.

“I think just that we’re going to play a lot of guys. We’re going to rotate that front. We do feel like we’ve got some depth on the defensive line. I think the fact that we have improved in the secondary, I think we have a lot better ‘ball-hawkers’ in the secondary as far as getting after the football.

“And I think we’ll see an improved pass rush. I think you’ll see guys that will be multiple. We will not sit in one look, I think ‘Smitty’ will dial up several different looks. And a team that’s not afraid to play man-coverage, not afraid to play our two-deep stuff, or not afraid to play our single-high stuff. I think we’ve got a good variety, I know they’re giving us fits in practice right now, even though we’ve tapered that off as we’ve kind of gotten into Atlanta week. But I just feel like the multiplicity will show up.”

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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