Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith
Defensive End Robert Ayers Jr.
Linebacker Lavonte David
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DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE SMITH
(On his decision to return to the Buccaneers as a defensive coordinator)
“Well, I’m very excited about being here. I think it’s absolutely the best decision for me and my family. Working with Dirk [Koetter] is a joy, working with these guys is really fun. I’m excited about what we’ve got to improve on and get better at. It was really a decision that my family and I made, that we want to be here.”
(On how the defense can improve heading into the season)
“I think – first thing is I’ve got to do a better job with the players. We had some growth this year, we had some times that probably didn’t look like we wanted it to look like. The first thing is for me personally, is I’ve got to do a better job getting these guys prepared. I do think that as we’ve started this offseason program, the knowledge that our players have, what they’ve been able to retain from last season to this season has been very good. We’re not starting at ‘2+2 is 4,’ we’re into calculus. That’s a good thing for us as a coaching staff and as a football team. We’re able to install a lot quicker, we’re going to be able to put in a few more wrinkles and hopefully it’ll be effective. The big thing for us is we know these guys now. We know what they’re capable of doing and we’ve also added, I think, some guys that are going to come in and help us at all three levels.”
(On what he thinks caused the defense’s poor communication in the first half of last season)
“I think when you’re not sure about what your job is and if we haven’t done a good enough job making sure, they don’t want to talk because guys don’t want to be wrong. I told them, ‘We’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to go through this learning process that you go through as a defensive football team.’ I’ve talked to them about being more verbal. Unfortunately, in our society today we don’t talk enough. We text a lot, we Snapchat but we don’t talk a whole lot. I told our guys, ‘Look, I think we probably would be a lot better if we all took our phones out there and texted to one another.’ We probably wouldn’t have the same mistakes that we have. We’ve made a conscious effort about since after the Atlanta game last year about making sure that we’re communicating and collaborating. I think we’ve gotten into a groove. We’ve had to go back over it and make sure everybody understands how we’re doing it in our offseason program. It’s critical for us. The game has gotten very complicated. The days of two backs, tight end in a normal alignment, and two wide receivers, it doesn’t exist. They’re putting people all over the field, the offense is working on spacing so we’ve got to be able to communicate. These guys have really bought into that.”
(On if there is one particular play from last season where he noted the defense’s communication stopped a big play from an opposing offense)
“Oh gosh, there were a number of plays. One that sticks out to me is in the Chicago game. We have a certain way that we pick up a route. They were driving, we’re in our red zone and Chris Conte got an interception because we were communicating pre-snap about the formation and about what adjustment we were going to make. Fortunately for us, they threw us the ball. That’s one example. There’s a number of examples with our pass rush in the Seattle game. Our defensive line did a very good job of communicating based on the formation and what pass rush games we were going to run, and we got home and we were able to confuse our opponent. Those are two examples there.”
(On why the third-down defense was so successful)
“Well, I really believe this, we talked about it as a staff throughout the season – we weren’t very good on first and second down. I think when it was very clear to our guys what we were defending, like we were defending third-and-6, we played a lot better. I think there are so many nuances when you’re playing a first-and-10, a second-and-long. So, I think we knew what we were having to defend where it was a little gray on first and second down. I thought that the guys had a very good understanding of what we were trying to do. Third down is very important, we take it as a turnover. If we stop a team on third down, our defense is off the field and the offense is getting an opportunity to go back out there. Ultimately, points allowed is the big thing. Points allowed and then there’s things that contribute to that. Getting off on third down, creating turnovers. I thought we did a very good job after the first four, five games of the season of taking the ball away. That I think helped us a bunch, it got us to play with a little bit more confidence and I think confidence is very important especially getting the momentum going in the right way.”
(On cornerback Robert McClain and who is likely to play the nickel position)
“We brought Robert in here to compete at the corner and the nickel position. He played nickel in Atlanta. Robert has got a number of starts in the league, he started in the Super Bowl for the Carolina Panthers so he’s got a good pedigree. He’s in here to compete, we’re trying to get some guys in here that have some experience. Both Jude [Adjei-Barimah] and Javien [Elliott] don’t have the experience that Robert has. We expect it to be a very good competition at the nickel spot. Again, we’ve got to cross-train him to be able to play outside as well.”
(On what he likes about rookie safety Justin Evans)
“There’s a whole bunch I like. We were just really excited that he was available for us when we picked. He’s very athletic, he’s got very good range and he also can get down in the box. He’s what I call a hybrid safety, he’s not a strong safety, he’s not a free safety. He can play both and that’s going to give us a lot of flexibility. You guys saw he’s got very good speed, you saw a little range a couple times in our camp with the rookies. He’s got some things to learn like all these rookies do. It’s really more specific to our verbage and how we’re going to play the game. The game is quite different than what he’s played in the SEC.”
(On what he wants to see cornerback Vernon Hargreaves improve on from last season)
“I thought Vernon did a very nice job last year. He was targeted a lot. When you have Brent Grimes on one side – it’s not talking about his talent, it’s talking about Brent’s talent. I think that he needs to have a better understanding and awareness of situations. I think at the corner position you’ve got to realize where you are on the field, what the down and distance is. I think he understands that. We took this offseason, for our entire defensive staff, we made a good, bad and ugly tape for every player. We spent time over the last three weeks going over it with each one of our players. It gives us an idea as a coaching staff to know what we did good, things that the individual did good, know what we’ve got to improve on. It also allows us as a coaching staff to see the things – there might be a trend that was running through our entire defense where we didn’t have a good understanding of it. We expect Vernon to come out and be very aggressive, I think a corner has to be aggressive. He plays with lots of confidence, he plays with lots of passion. He’s going to be a good football player for us.”
(On what specifically he wants Hargreaves to be more aggressive about)
“I think it’s confidence and knowing what the situation is, as I mentioned earlier with our whole defense. Knowing the situation, knowing that we’re down in the red zone. We’ve got less to defend, we’ve got to take tighter coverage. We don’t always want to be paint by numbers as a football team. Just because the rule says that you line up at eight yards, well, when you’re inside the 15-yard line we don’t want you lining up at eight yards. We want you to line up half the distance. There’s certain things that he’ll get a better understanding of. Athletically, you all saw he can play both inside and outside so he gives us a lot of flexibility.”
(On what player had the longest ‘good’ tape)
“Who had the longest good tape (laughs)? [Linebackers] Coach [Mark] Duffner’s tapes were probably the longest of all of them because he’s very detailed. The linebacker tapes were probably the longest, but I don’t know the answer to that.”
(On what fans can expect from the Buccaneers’ offense)
“I try to focus on their offenses, that we’re getting ready to play. We have to go out and compete, and they give us fits every time we go out and compete against our offense. They’ve added a lot of firepower on the offensive side this offseason. It’s going to be fun to compete and it’s going to make us a whole lot better not only throwing the football, but when you throw the football well I think it allows you to be able to run the ball. They go hand in hand, and it’s going to make us better because we’re going to have to try to defend these guys. I was very impressed with our first-round pick, the tight end [O.J.] Howard. He’s a heck of a player.”
(On what he’s expecting from linebacker Lavonte David this season)
“I think we want to see growth in all areas of the game. Lavonte, I think, at the end of the year really came on as a pass rusher. He became more effective as a pass rusher, we were able to design some things to allow him to get in a charge and rush the passer. I just think the overall knowledge of our defense is the thing that we’ve got to get better at across the board. I think we are light years ahead of where we were last year at this time.”
(On how much time he spent reviewing Hard Knocks film during his tenure as Atlanta’s head coach)
“The day before the show, or the night before the show, got an opportunity to look at a rough cut. So, probably a couple hours. The majority of the time of the review was done by others in the organization. You can’t focus on what’s going to happen on a TV show. The guys do a great job in Hard Knocks, they’re professionals, they’re very creative. But I will say this, it’s hard to really tell what happens in a week in one hour. We get an opportunity for other people to get a look inside, but it’s really one hour of a complete week and I don’t know how many hours of tape. But they do a super job, after the first couple of days that they’re with you, it’s like they’re not there because you get focused on what your job is.”
(On the difficulty from a defensive standpoint of defending two pass receiving tight ends at once)
“It allows you to, as an offense, it allows you to be able to present formations that look like the run formations. You can pass out of them, and they can be pass formations that you can run out of, and then it creates a mismatch. Most nickels are third corners and you have sometimes difficulty matching that nickel up, so you have to go with a bigger body. I think the trend you’re going to see more and more is people are going to use a bigger nickel. Maybe not a linebacker, but there’s that hybrid in-between. He’s not truly a linebacker, he’s not truly a defensive back. That’s where the safety role and the safety body type is going to come into play. But having to defend two tight end formations, it is very difficult because of the amount of looks that you can get. When you have three wide receivers, you’re not going to move that guy back, that third receiver back into the backfield, more than likely, to run the ball. You can do that, you can present a wide formation, you can move the guy back, the tight end back in the backfield and create two back looks. You’ve got a whole lot more flexibility in terms of what you can present to a defense when you’ve got two tight ends.”
(On if he was conscious of saying or not saying certain things while the Hard Knocks cameras were rolling)
“You get so focused in what you’re doing, getting your team prepared for the season. Everyone, I think, probably handles it differently. My focus was just on, was there going to be a competitive advantage on this episode? I really didn’t care what was going on. I was wanting to make sure that when the quarterback was calling out signals and audibles that it wasn’t something that our opponent was going to be able to take advantage of.”
(On if he ever felt Hard Knocks gave away a competitive advantage)
“No. They do a very good job of making sure that there’s not, especially when they’re doing things at the line of scrimmage. I never really felt that. But, we always wanted to check and that was the thing that really I had to check, or someone from our coaching staff had to check. The other part of it, you let your guys in the video department or in the PR department, let them listen. They’re going to put on it what they want, and it’s going to be – they’ve got their ideas before they get into the show on who they’re going to be focusing on. Again, they’re not focusing on our whole football team. They’re focusing on a handful of players.”
(On linebacker Kendell Beckwith getting back to full health and the possibility of him competing for a starting role)
“Liked his film, very physical player. He played middle linebacker, but I think he has the flexibility in our base defense to move outside and compete with DeVonte Bond at the SAM linebacker position in our base. I think he also is athletic enough and fast enough to be a guy that will be in the mix at the dime in the [line]backer position when we play our two linebacker scheme.”
(On if defensive end Noah Spence’s injury changes how he evaluates him as a player)
“I think I said this at the end of the season, if I didn’t, I should’ve. He’s one tough dude. The injury that he played through the whole entire time that he was injured early in the season shows how tough he is. He’s a guy that we’re expecting big things from. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to really participate with us until we get to training camp. But he is much more than what we anticipated, being able to be a three-down [player], and he is looking really good watching him work on the side. Very excited about having him join us when we get started in training camp.”
(On defensive end Robert Ayers Jr.’s performance last season and what he’s hoping to see this season)
“I think Robert really fought through that foot injury, the ankle injury that he was dealing with. Those are not easy to come back, even though you come back in three weeks or four weeks and are able to participate. The position that he plays, you’re not the same all season long. Robert gives us a lot of flexibility as you guys saw. He can move inside and play defensive tackle for us when we are in our sub-package. He can also rush from the outside. He gives a lot of flexibility. I anticipate Robert to continue to be the type of leader that he’s been. He’s been very influential in bringing a toughness to our defense, and that’s very important. We’ve got to continue to work on our toughness and our resiliency.”
(On what prompted him to want to increase the defensive line’s size inside)
“We feel that we have to get bigger to be able to defend the run. The first thing that you have to do is get people in passing situations. This is a passing league, but when people can line up and run the ball on you you’re never going to get in the favorable third-down situations. That’s why when we first got here we talked about, ‘We don’t have 11 starters.’ We’ve got 14 or 15 starters because there’s going to be guys that are going to be starting on first-and-10, second-and-8, that are going to be off the field on third-down-and-5. I think at the end of the season we did not defend the run, especially in one of our division games. We did not defend the run the way that we needed to. We feel like we’ve got to get bigger and have more girth up front. That plays into two things. That plays into us winning the line of scrimmage, and also creating opportunities for us to have linebackers running free. When you have to put four hands on a defensive lineman as to two hands, when you’ve got two hands then you’ve got two hands on your linebackers. If you’ve got four hands on a lineman, you’ve got an opportunity with the way our linebackers run that they’ll be able to run clean to the ball.”
(On what he defensive tackle Gerald McCoy meant that he said that he needs to have a bigger impact on the Bucs defense)
“I’m not really sure. I know that Gerald is probably his own worst critic in terms of his game and evaluating his game. I think that somebody had done some analytics on what he was talking about and I don’t know that it necessarily bared out. He made just as many big plays in the fourth quarter as he did at the beginning of the game. One thing that I’ve learned about Gerald is he’s never satisfied. He always feels like he could’ve done better and when you have guys that have that type of attitude, you’re going to be enhancing your chances of being successful. You want it to rub off on other guys in the room.”
(On if he spent time with rookie defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu prior to drafting him)
“We spent time with Stevie at the combine, the position coaches and Coach Koetter met with him. He’s an interesting guy in terms of his body type and his athleticism. We feel like he’s not just a guy, just like [Chris] Baker, we don’t think that they’re guys that are only going to play on first and second-down even though they’re 300-plus pounds. I think Stevie could move out and play some five technique. We know that Baker can, he did it in Washington. Again, we’re trying to get into a situation where we have as much flexibility as we possibly can with the guys that are dressed out on defense. It’s usually 20, 21 on gameday. We want to be able to put those guys in the best position that we possibly can based on what we’re facing each week.”
DEFENSIVE END ROBERT AYERS JR.
(On if he's recovered from the injuries he played through last year)
"You definitely try to take advantage of the time off and try to prepare, try to get yourself back to as close to 100 percent as you can in the offseason. Whatever injuries you had you want them to heal and you try to strengthen [those areas]. But it's part of the game, injuries. You work through them. I worked through a lot of things throughout season, but that's everybody. Everybody goes through that. Everybody has to fight through something and I was no different. If I’m out there, [I’m] expected to perform at a certain level. This year, I plan to be at 100 percent, but I'm pretty sure there are going to be things I've got to fight through, just like last year. So you just try to prepare, try to get your body in as top shape as you can. You try to stay mentally strong and that's really all you can do."
(On how far the defense has come since he said it was ‘terrible’ last spring)
"[Laughs.] It's still early. I still don't think we're where we need to be. I'll never think in OTAs that we are good. I'll never think that we've accomplished anything. I'll never feel like we have arrived. I'll never feel that way. I'll always think that we're not a good unit at this point. There's nothing that's going to make me think, 'Oh, we're tough, we're ready. We're ready to kick ass this year.' There's nothing that's ever going to happen in OTAs to make me think that. So with me saying we were terrible last year, I still feel the same way now, but I think we're improving, I think we're taking steps, I think we're getting better. I'm encouraged. I'm excited about going forward, because where we're going to be in August, it's going to be night and day to compared to where we are now. So of course we're terrible, because we're going to be so much better when we get the pads on. When we stop taking those steps and we start getting a better feel for each other, we're going to be so much better. So that's what I mean when I say that. And I think we're just going to continue to get better. We'll continue to work, we have some good players. We'll get a lot of good players back. We lost Jacquies [Smith] last year, who I think was getting ready to have a monster season last year before he got hurt. Unfortunately we lost him. George Johnson, he's hungry, he's motivated. We get him back. Noah [Spence] had the shoulder injury. He's going to tear some stuff up this year and I'm looking forward to it. You see a lot of guys that are ready. Right now we're terrible. Come August, hopefully we will be where we need to be."
(On the defense transforming at midseason when the communication got better)
"Yeah, I definitely thought things got a lot better. Things definitely got a lot better. We got to the point where we started to figure out what we needed to do, and we had to hold each other accountable. We had to overemphasize the importance of communicating because if I'm thinking one thing and Gerald [McCoy] is thinking another, it makes our job a lot harder. When we're both thinking the same thing and we're both on the same page, and so are the linebackers and so is the secondary, things just go smoothly and we can execute on a higher level. You start to win those third downs, you start finishing games off in the fourth quarter. We definitely took steps last year. I think we sort of tailed off a little bit at the end against Dallas and New Orleans, but we want to hit the ground running this year. We want to pick up where we kind of were in that period where we were playing pretty good. We want to come out in Week One and dominate. That's the goal, that's what we want to do and that's what we strive for."
(On defensive end Noah Spence)
"For me, I'm always thinking about being a dominant player. I see the work that guys put in and I talk to guys. I'm always in guys' ears. I'm always trying to pick guys' brains. Being around Noah and talking to him, he's motivated. He has a huge chip on his shoulder. A lot of people might think, 'Why does he have a chip on his shoulder? He played pretty good as a rookie.' But for him, he didn't meet his standards and he didn't do the things that he wanted to be doing. Talking to him, I know how hungry he is, and I see what type of shape he's in. I thought last year he was going to be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and a 10-sack guy. Me and him had a little bet going on – I'm not going to tell you what the bet was, but we had a little bet – that he was going to get 10 sacks and I thought he was. He wants to do that and I think this year he's even more hungry than he was last year. So I'm excited for him. I think he's a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year – that's my opinion. Whether he goes and does it is another thing, but that's how I feel about him because I think he has tools that not many people come into this league with and he's still learning. I'm excited for him. It's going to be a big year."
(On how he has embraced a leadership role, as he showed with something he said to the team at midseason)
"I don't really look at it as me being a leader. I personally view myself as a guy that, I go hard and my goals are just high. I don't believe in settling. The idea of another man being better than me at anything has always been something that I hate. The idea of another team thinking that they're better than us is just something that I hate. I really hate to lose. So enough was enough. I wouldn't give myself any credit for our turnaround. I don't know, we just got it turned around, I guess. I just want to win, man, and that's all it was about."
(On if he thought the defense needed to get tougher when he got there)
"I didn't think that. I think we've got a lot of tough guys. I wouldn't necessarily say the attitude needs to change, but in my opinion, winning and losing is contagious. If you get used to losing, then it becomes the norm. If you get used to winning then you don't accept anything else. I think we just needed to create an environment of winning, an environment of competing and challenging each other, pushing each other. That's what I think I kind of brought to the table, because I'm not afraid to say anything to anybody, no matter the stature is or what their level of accomplishments are, or even a coach. I'm not afraid for you not to like me. I don't really care about being liked. I don't really care about opinions of me. I just want to win. So I think we kind of challenged each other and pushed each other to change things around here. I don't think guys weren't tough; I think we just weren't used to winning those big games. We weren't used to being at that center of attention. I think we just needed to challenge each other to step up when those situations come. We're on prime time, we need to be able to ball out. That's just me. Hopefully that answers your question."
(On previously playing with new Buccaneer defensive tackle Chris Baker when they came into the league together with Denver in 2009)
"Me and Bake – I always say, when you first come into the league you always remain friends with the guys that you were rookies with. When we came in as rookies together, we went through a lot of tough things together. He was undrafted and I was a first-round draft pick, but we were both linked because we were going through struggles together. We both had a lot of adversity – different adversity, but we both went through a lot. Ever since then – he left the year after – but ever since then we've always kept in touch. We've always talked, we've always watched each other. If I have a good game, he shot me a text. We talk junk. If he sees somebody beats me or something, he'll text me talking junk. I say the same to him. We've always had that relationship, so for him to come here, it's just like we picked right up where we left off as rookies. So it's fun. I'm happy he's here and he's going to help us. He's going to push us. It's going to be a big competition and that's going to make this team better.
(On quarterback Jameis Winston)
"That dude, he's competitive, man. He wants to win. Ultimately, that's all this game is about. It's about winning. It's not about having Instagram followers, it's not about anything else but winning. He's a young cat but his goals – he wants to win Super Bowls now. You respect that and you appreciate that. He leads his guys, pushes his guys and challenges his guys. He makes things competitive and he wants to be great. For him to be so young and for him to understand the pressure of being the face of the franchise is huge. I respect it, man. He's kind of like me in a sense. I'm just a defensive end version of him. He's out there trying to start fights and push people off piles in a game and stuff. He's just competitive, and I love competitors."
(On what he said after Winston earned a personal foul penalty against Dallas)
"What I said? I was going, 'You're stupid.' But that's him. As a quarterback, you can't do stuff like that, but that's him. You respect it, but at the same time it wasn't necessarily smart at the moment. But [things] happen. Did they call a flag that play? They did, didn't they? It hurt us so we were mad. I'm pretty sure I might have said something to him. He probably said something back; I don't know. But he's competitive, man, and that's what you love more than anything about him."
(On if his respect level for Gerald McCoy went up when McCoy said he wanted to do even more for the team this year)
"Not really. I mean, that's what he's supposed to think. That's what I think. He just so happened [to say it]. I think he thought that last year. It just so happened that a microphone was in front of him and he said it. He wants to be great. He doesn't just want to be a Pro Bowler. He wants to be a dominant force. I tell him all the time, 'I can't do what you do.' As much as I believe I'm an alpha male, I can't do what you do. You've got to be the one to take that to the next level. You've got to be the one that leads us in the fourth quarter. I'm thinking about making big plays, but I'm also in his ear saying, 'Take over, Gerald. Take over. Nobody out here can block you.' So I'm always in his ear saying things like that. This was last year, so for him to say that this year it's like, we already thought that. It just so happened he said it. I think his goals are so high that – It didn't really change my opinion of him because I felt he felt that way before. I felt he wanted to be great before, I felt his goals were high, I felt like he wanted to be a dominant player, I felt like he wanted to take over games, I felt like he wanted to be unblockable. So I don't think him saying it now really makes me feel any differently about him because I already knew how he fault."
(On if he would embrace the cameras of Hard Knocks)
"I don't care one way or another, because at the end of the day I'm going to be who I am. I'm going to play ball, I'm going to go hard, I'm going to try to win. It's cool. The only thing I fear it for is sometimes things get a little bit intimate with people being cut and stuff like that. That's the only thing I kind of dislike about it, but other than that it's business as usual. If they're going to be in your face all the time, I just hope they don't catch me in a bad mood and I say something that hurts my reputation or hurts the team. But other than that, I don't really care. As long as they're not too invasive in my face, I'm good. Other than that, [the media] are at practice, we play in front of thousands of people, so I don't really see how it's going to change anything or affect anything."
(On the team adding offensive weapons in the draft)
"I was excited. Of course, I wanted us to draft all defense, but they guy that we got [tight end O.J. Howard] I was excited about it. He went to 'Bama, so I kind of didn't like that. But he's a stud. I feel like I can play a part in making him better in practice and stuff, so I look forward of that challenge of trying to go at him. Not necessarily to make him tougher but to challenge him and to push him to get better. I think that's what this is about, everybody pushing each other, challenging each other. I think he's going to help this offense a lot – all the guys that we drafted. [Justin] Evans and [Kendell] Beckwith and [Chris] Godwin and all those guys, I think those guys are going to come in and compete. So I was real excited about the guys that we got. I can't say anything bad about them. For a while I heard and read that [Howard] was projected as a top-five guy, so for him to slide all the way down to 19, that's huge. Now we've got so many weapons. We've got Doug [Martin], who I think is going to be a monster. People have been talking junk about him like he didn't just run for, what, 1,500, 1,600 yards two years ago? Second-leading rusher [in the NFL] and people are talking junk about him like he didn't just do that two years ago. People were saying we were going to draft a running back and I was like, 'You're crazy.' We're going to have him, we're going to have DeSean [Jackson], we're going to have Cameron Brate, we're going to have Howard, we're going to have Mike [Evans]. Our offensive line is going to be even better. So I'm excited. I think it's going to be a real issue, and the defense is going to be right there. Hopefully we will be better than they are. That's the goal. I'm excited."
(On if he likes to test out rookies to see what they're made of)
"Definitely. I believe in challenging each other. I believe in competing. I believe in weeding out the weak. If we've got somebody that's soft, I want to weed him out. When he comes in, I'm going to try to challenge him. Whether it's an offensive lineman or a tight end or whoever, I'm going to try to challenge him to see early who's going to fold and who's not. That's how I look at things. It's going to be fun. I'm pretty sure he's going to bring it back, and that's what I expect. I expect for him to bring it back, and it's going to make us all better. That's my approach to it. I'm not going to try to hurt him or do anything dirty or go out of my character to challenge him, but I just believe that's what this game is about. It's about challenging each other, competing and basically trying to weed out the weak. That's how I look at it."
LINEBACKER LAVONTE DAVID
(On entering his second season with Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith)
“When you look back and if you could have a camera in our meeting room last year, it was crazy. Everybody had the big eyes when we were installing, but now it’s totally different. Everybody’s talking, the whole room is communicating from the D-line to the secondary to the linebackers, and that’s amazing. Coach Smith is getting really excited about that. So, that’s really cool to see and also it translating over on the field when we’re doing walkthroughs and things like that. Guys are talking, guys are knowing what each other’s supposed to be doing, so that’s a real cool thing. It kind of picked up towards the end of the season, but we wanted to start fast at the beginning and now we have the opportunity to do so.”
(On what triggered better communication amongst the defense towards the end of the season)
“I think the main thing was when we first installed the defenses, guys were just focusing on their jobs and what they were supposed to be doing, just still learning what they were supposed to be doing. As the season went on, we kind of graduated from knowing what we were doing to knowing what the guys around you were doing. That’s the main thing. That’s the only way the defense is going to work - if you know who you are working with, knowing where guys are supposed to be and knowing how you’re supposed to fit. That allows us to play fast and make plays and anticipate things. That’s the main thing. That’s the type of level we are trying to get on in order for us to be a great defense.”
(On whether he can pinpoint a specific game or play where it “clicked” for the defense)
“Probably right around the Saints game, around that time, the Saints and Seattle games. It’s like, okay, yeah, you’re starting to get it now. Things started clicking, guys started talking, guys start getting more comfortable. Guys are knowing where each other [are] supposed to be. When you see guys flying around, that goes to show that we know what we are doing. You’ve got guys who know what they are doing and also with the talent we have, it can take us a long way.”
(On how he feels physically)
“I’m feeling great. I can’t complain. I’m blessed. I had a long offseason and had a chance to get healthy, get everything I had to do squared away, so now I’m ready to hit the ground running.”
(On whether defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s comments a few weeks ago needing to improve his game surprised him)
“No, not at all. It didn’t surprise me at all. We all know Gerald. Gerald is his own worst critique. Gerald is always trying to work on his profession. If he feels like he wasn’t perfect enough for us, he is going to try his best to try to do that. We all love Gerald. We love the way he plays, we love his work ethic. If he feels like he hasn’t been giving it his all, all we are going to do is have his back and keep pushing him, so he can do that.”
(On whether he feels the same way about his game)
“As athletes, as competitors, you always want to be great. You always want to be great at your position. Like you said, last year I didn’t have my best year, so I just want to be able to get better and get back to my old self.”
(On whether his expectations are higher for himself this year)
“Each year, expectations get higher and higher, each year. From last year, the first winning season since I’ve been here, so now this upcoming season, it has to go even better. To go from a winning season to a playoff season to competing in the playoffs and also getting to the Super Bowl. The main goal is for us to win this division and get to the big dance and make the Super Bowl. I’m sure everybody in the locker room has that same expectation and we’re ready to take on the challenge.”
(On going up against rookie tight end O.J. Howard during training camp)
“From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard, he’s a great athlete, great kid, big body, great football player. At camp, I’m looking forward to going up against everybody. Camp is one of those fun times when you get the chance to compete against each other and just go at one another and just have fun with it. That’s what I mostly do. Me and [tight end] Cam Brate [are] always trash talking, so hopefully me and O.J. start that little trash talking battle, but it is what it is. From what I’ve heard, he’s a great kid.”
(On whether his good or bad tape made by the staff was longer)
“We are not going to get into that [laughs], but it’s what I needed to be honest. Since I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever had that. So, when I saw that, I really think it helped me out a lot. We got a chance to sit down with [Linebackers] Coach [Mark] Duffner and talk about things good, bad and what could be better. You kind of see the big picture doing it too. It kind of helps you learn defense as well, what can be better, what you did good on this play and what you did bad on a certain play. Then they have lows - they have missed tackles, they have a whole bunch of things. There’s a lot of stuff to put in your bag of things to get better at.”
(On if there is a certain play in particular he wishes he could have back from this past season)
“No, Not necessarily. I played so many snaps, I can’t remember. Every down I’m out there, I just try to give it my all and make sure I’m doing everything correctly.”
(On linebacker Kwon Alexander)
“Film speaks for itself, man. Since day one, Kwon has always been that guy that is just trying to learn, trying to be great. He is always preaching greatness and that’s what he tries to be. Just to get a chance to watch him grow from his rookie year to now. Even in this defense, last year, all of us struggled. But now, coming into meetings, he is calling everything out, he’s the Mike ‘backer. When we’re in meetings, he’s basically taking control like he is on the field, making all the calls and things like that. That’s awesome to see from being a shy kid at first to now growing up to being mature. That’s amazing and the best is yet to come from Kwon.”
(On starting the season off against Miami)
“Not only is that my hometown, but I’ve never played against Miami before back at home. So, it’s going to be amazing. I’ve already had people calling me about tickets, trying to get out there and support, but it’s going to be electrifying. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it. I know my family is looking forward to it. Also, going down there and setting the tone on where we want to be as a football team is going to be really cool.”
(On what fans will see on ‘Hard Knocks’)
“They are not going to see nothing [laughs]. You know me, I stay behind the scenes. If the camera catches me, the camera catches me, but I am going to make sure I am not doing anything out of the ordinary.”
(On quarterback Jameis Winston’s new weapons on offense)
“I am going to expect Jameis to be Jameis, be the same guy – an electrifying quarterback, making plays happen whether with his feet or with his arm. Keeping plays alive, throwing a deep ball to [wide receiver] DeSean [Jackson], throwing a deep ball to [wide receiver] Mike [Evans], hitting [tight end] Cam [Brate] across the middle, [tight end] O.J. [Howard] across the middle, dumping down to the back. He has a lot of weapons to work with. Knowing Jameis, he is going to try to do his best to get the best play. He’s going to try to compete his butt off and try to win. Jameis lights up the locker room every time he walks in it. I expect nothing less out of him.”
(On whether he has been around a leader like Winston before)
“To be honest, no, not really. To see a young kid like Jameis just come in and spark up the locker room right away, it’s just great to be around. It kind of gives you some type of hope to see your quarterback come in and being excited and cool with everyone in the locker room and getting everybody excited and getting everybody ready for practice and just get ready for the day. That’s great to see.”
(On if a second year in Mike Smith’s defense offers the opportunity to make more big plays)
“Yeah, I think so. Like I said, now that I have the defense down, I kind of understand what’s going on. I understand what I’m supposed to be doing, understanding what an offense can do to a certain defense. So, I feel like they have given me an opportunity to make certain plays that I kind of missed last year. Then I ended the season with five sacks and I missed probably about five more. So, the sky is the limit for me in this defense and I love it. I’m moving around a lot, not giving teams the same looks, so it’s going to be interesting.”
(On having running back Doug Martin back in the building)
“It was great. I was working out here this offseason and Doug came and I first saw him. As soon as he saw me, he ran up to me and gave me a hug. Me, Doug and [Keith] Tandy are the only guys left in that 2012 draft class here, so we kind of take that to heart. We try to have each other’s back. We are all pulling for Doug. To see him come back in great shape, smiling, happy, we knew there were no worries. There were no questions thrown out or anything like that. We knew he was back to himself and we knew he was ready to go for this upcoming season.”
(On whether he reached out to Martin when he found out about suspension)
“Yeah, I did. As soon as I found out everything that had happened, I reached out to him. In the situation, he wasn’t able to have his phone, but he said he got it, but his situation given. That is why when he saw me, we gave each other a hug and I was excited to see him back.”
(On Martin’s recent car crash)
“I was on my way home back to Miami. One of my friends hit me up and told me, but when I found out that he was all okay. He said it wasn’t even that big of a deal, so his car just got messed up. There wasn’t even anything wrong with him. As soon as I got back, I had not seen him. Kevin Pamphile had a chance to talk to him about it and said he was all good. So, he’s okay, he’s doing great, thank God.”