The Tampa Bay Bucs are still struggling against the pass, but coach Dirk Koetter has seen progress.
The Bucs gave up more than 300 yards passing in their first two games, but they’ve played three straight where teams haven’t had as much success through the air.
“I think I was the one that was saying all along, I think our secondary is all right,” said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. “Now we’ve had our issues. We’ve had a couple balls thrown over our head back in the Arizona game, but the main thing in my opinion that has been hurting our secondary is our offense putting our secondary in bad position. Then in the Carolina game, we’ve been lacking in pass rush, not lacking effort, just lacking getting home. My hats off to our guys that are playing up front.
“We are playing a lot of young guys up front. Some of our pass rushers that we were counting on are out. We said many times in [training] camp that a secondary’s best friend is a good pass rush, but I think that we can cover. I think our corners can cover. I think we can make plays on the ball. I think our safeties have played their best two games the last two weeks, (safety Bradley) McDougald and (safety) Chris Conte and getting (cornerback) Vernon (Hargreaves III) solidified outside, (cornerback) Jude (Adjei-Barimah) in the slot and nickel. We know (linebacker) Lavonte (David) can cover and (linebacker) Kwon (Alexander) could cover guys in linebacker, so I think if we were in a shoot-out-type game where we had to rely on our secondary, I think our secondary will do fine.”
Against the 49ers, the Bucs will be facing San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick in his second start. Kaepernick is only 36th in the NFL in passing.
“We weren’t able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” said defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “I think the guys up front they fought and they battled, but we weren’t able to get any effect, really. But I thought that we did a good job in the secondary. The guys back there had a pretty good understanding of the route progressions and we did a nice job. And then of course when you get the turnovers, that’s critical in any football game. Our defensive line created the one on the strip-fumble recovery and of course [cornerback) Brent (Grimes’) interception there in the end zone was outstanding. But the guys are starting to gel, I thought that that was probably their best game, as a collective group.”
Smith said he likes what he has seen from Kaepernick.
“He’s a threat every time he drops back to run the football and that’s what really he does so well,” Smith said. “He sees a hole and he can take it. I still think he’s got good speed. He rushed for 66 yards in the ball game and they weren’t option plays, they were drop back and scramble, I think about two-thirds of them in the game against Buffalo. It was not conducive to throw the football, if you guys happened to see any of the highlights and watched the game. It was a very windy game, so I don’t know that you could really judge his throwing of the football in those windy conditions. He’s a guy that’s had a lot of success in the NFL, as you’ve mentioned. He’s got one game under his belt (this season.) I think we’ll see much improvement from week one to week two.”
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said that playing against Kaepernick is a challenge.
“His athleticism, he has rare athleticism. There’s a lot of athletes in the league at quarterback, but not a lot like him. He can gain ground in a hurry and he’s not a quarterback who wastes time making a decision. If he’s going to go, he’s gone. And when he goes, you better get on your horse because he can get downfield quick, so we definitely have to be in our rush lanes for him.”
Of course, the secondary is only as good as its pass rush, which is where unknown defensive lineman DeVonte Lambert has excelled.
“One thing I noticed about ‘Lambo’ when he first got here is he was really explosive, he had really good feet,” defensive tackle McCoy said. “I think it was Kourtnei Brown that said, ‘Man, he’s got Gerald McCoy feet (laughter),’ I was like, ‘That’s cool. I love that, ‘Gerald feet’.’ But he’s really explosive and he’s always taking notes, studying, studying, studying. So when he got called upon, it was more of not being nervous, more just being ready. He told me, ‘I knew I was about to play in the game, but when I got out there, I was just like, ‘Man, I’m out here’.’ Yeah, you are out there. We can’t have you thinking you’re out here, you’ve got to go. Once he got past that, he’s just been doing his thing.”
Said Koetter: “He’s a surprise in that no one knew his name. Him and [defensive lineman] Channing Ward, those are two of those guys are filling out the roster back when you have 90-something guys and you’re bringing in free agents that I didn’t know those guys’ names and they were here, they were filling out the roster, they hung in there, they made the 53 and then we talk to our guys all the time, “If you’re in the room, you’ve got to be ready to play,” and they were kind of on that sit back, they were on the bottom of the roster and then all of a sudden, we need them and they’re playing, both Channing and DaVonte, playing more than was ever expected and you couldn’t be happier about the effort they’re giving.”