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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Bucs defense facing eye-opening challenge

TAMPA — It’s that great gettin’ up morning. It’s the first stern test for a new and improved(?) Bucs defense, though last week these guys lost a sternless season opener to Jets rookie Geno Smith and a weaponless Jets offense. Even all-used-up Kellen Winslow caught a touchdown.

And here comes Drew Brees.

“It’s the same (scouting report) you’d have for any first-ballot Hall of Famer who’s still playing,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said with resigned grin. “We’ve got him and then we’ve got another one right after.”

Tom Brady, at New England.

First comes Brees and all his targets, Brees and his quick release, Brees and more Brees.

And now a few words from the Island.

“I think playing against a passing attack like this, that we’re going to face Sunday, you’re licking your chops for this type of game,” Darrelle Revis said.

The great thing is the man means it.

This is why Revis was brought here.

This is why Dashon Goldson is here. This is why the Bucs spent all that money after watching last year’s pass defense, the worst in the NFL, very nearly the worst in league history. Revis is licking his chops. Last year’s secondary swallowed its tongue.

How much better is this Bucs defense?

We know they have the stupid penalty thing down pat.

But what else?

We know that Brees will be Brees. He threw for 677 yards and eight touchdowns in two wins against the Bucs last season. In the game in Tampa, the Bucs led 14-0, then 21-7, then, blink, blink, Brees and the Saints had 35 points. Brees has thrown for 33 touchdowns against the Bucs, more than he has against any other team.

And then comes Brady.

“Yep, no doubt. This will be as good as it’ll get, that we’re going to play against,” Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said.

This is why Revis is here. Here’s where the Island, in theory, locks down his man, probably Saints receiver Marques Colston, allowing, in theory, the Bucs to double-team some other target, possibly Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, with Goldson shadowing him, assuming Goldson can cover as well as he gets fined. We’re not sure yet. Oh, did we mention Lance Moore and Darren Sproles?

“We’re going to try to use Darrelle, because he’s got talent, and you can tilt your coverages a little bit even when you’re not manning guys up,” Sheridan said.

There were some good things on defense in the Jets game. The Bucs had five sacks, though most came from the linebackers, and McCoy and the front got some push. Even so, Jets rookie Smith grossed 256 passing yards before sack yardage was factored in. Gross indeed.

It’s not good enough.

“It’s got to be collective, the coverage and the rush have to work together,” Goldson said.

Here comes the first test of the big experiment: building a defense from the backfield forward, which goes against the grain and logic. Will it really add up?

Here comes advanced math.

Here comes Brees.

The Bucs secondary seems to feel better about itself. Revis will do that.

“Just having him on the field calms everyone else down,” cornerback Leonard Johnson said. “His presence alone puts everyone at their ‘A’ game ...”

“Reve has been in the game seven years,” rookie corner Johnthan Banks said. “He’s locked down some of the best. He’s chill, he knows what’s going on, he’s confident.”

Revis batted away the first two footballs thrown his way last Sunday, his first action in a year.

“I’m still dusting off the cob webs,” Revis said.

If Drew Brees doesn’t shake them off, or Tom Brady, what will?

Time to see about this pass defense.

New, but improved?

“I know having (Revis), and as good as our secondary and linebackers are playing, we can do a lot of different things,” McCoy said. “But you have to do them.”

And here comes, well, you know.

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