TAMPA -- An overlooked aspect of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason has been the improved play of their defense.
"We have a great defense," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "Everyone looks at the offensive production and things on this side, but we wouldn't have won the games that we won without our defense last year. And I think everyone knows that especially inside this building. Our defense is a great defense and the challenges they throw at us every single day, it really helps us."
The defense was third in the league in turnovers forced last year with 29, picking off 18 passes and recovering 11 fumbles. Cornerback Brent Grimes was among the top cornerbacks in the NFL in 2016, allowing a passer rating when thrown to of just 62.6, while Keith Tandy proved to have a habit for getting to the ball when he was thrown into a starting role; during the final five games of the season, he recorded four interceptions.
"I think the best thing our defense has done is, they've had a lot of guys nicked up, they've had a lot of guys missing, and they've probably gotten the best of the offense," head coach Dirk Koetter said. "If you just went through 11 quote-unquote OTA practices, I'd say overall the defense has won more than they've lost, and that's with Noah Spence out, Jacquies Smith out. J.J. Wilcox has been out the whole time, Justin Evans has been out the whole time. The defense, they've improved their depth. The main players in that defense - Kwon (Alexander) and Lavonte (David), Gerald (McCoy) in the middle, Vernon Hargreaves - have consistently made plays every day. Vernon Hargreaves had another nice interception there in that last period, too."
--Kicker Roberto Aguayo went 5-for-5 in field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder, in the Bucs' mandatory minicamp practice Tuesday. Nick Folk was 4 of 5 in field-goal tries, with his 52-yard attempt striking the right upright.
"It's been close," Koetter said. "They've been going five kicks a day and usually it's one here or there. That's the difference though over the course of the year between an 85-percent kicker and a 74-percent kicker. Roberto got the best of it today and looked good and Nick looked good. I think we worked back to 54 yards on that last one and Nick's was a little bit short. Roberto hit five clean ones, so that's what competition is."
--Koetter said he doesn't expect to be distracted by Hard Knocks when the team returns for training camp.
"You know, as far as Hard Knocks goes, the only thing different than (the media) being out there - I'll be honest, once practice starts, I don't notice one person out there," Koeter said. "There's people in the middle, there's people over there. When we're practicing, I don't see jack. Now, the one thing about Hard Knocks, they put a 'mic' on you, so they tape it to your chest every day. For about the first two minutes, you know it's there, then you forget. We're working. Whether there was 10 cameras at practice, or 100, it will make no difference. Now, what gets spit out, what comes out of my mouth, that you guys can't hear during practice, we'll have to see how that goes. Hopefully my mom's not embarrassed."