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Same players, new team: How Todd Bowles expects his defense to be different in 2021

“Even with 22 [starters returning], it’s still a different team,” Bowles said during his post OTA press conference on Thursday.
Credit: AP
Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead (33) celebrates with outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (90), safety Mike Edwards (32), and inside linebacker Devin White (45) during the second half of an NFL Football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Kevin Sabitus)

TAMPA, Fla. — The talk around fan circles and media pools leading up to the 2021 regular season will be about whether or not Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can repeat as Super Bowl champions.

It doesn’t happen often. In fact, the last time it happened was following the 2003 and 2004 seasons when Brady led the New England Patriots to back-to-back title runs defeating the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Those two Patriots squads were very different though. Sure, Brady was there and they were coached by Bill Belihick. But beyond them, the team’s leading rusher, receiver and tackler were all different from one year to the next.

The defender who had the most interceptions for the Pats was different, too. So was the leading punt returner. Outside of Brady, Adam Vinatieri was the only guy who sat atop his position and production group from the first championship team to the next.

A new Patriots team emerged during the second run. And defensive coordinator Todd Bowles expects to see a new Buccaneers defense to show up in 2021 as well.

“Even with 22 [starters returning], it’s still a different team,” Bowles said during his post OTA press conference on Thursday. “It’s a different team. We tweaked some things for us to get better at. We know some things that hurt us. As a team, we have to re-jell, re-do our chemistry and everything else to try to get better from there and start from the bottom up. I think if you go into the season saying that we’re top dog, we’ve already lost. We’re starting at the bottom and we’re going to work our way back up.”

You can’t work your way up if you already consider yourself at the top, and the second a team thinks they’re perfect, they get caught short.

NFL history has taught everyone this lesson enough, the Bucs shouldn’t need a disappointing loss or major upset to learn it. If the team’s defense takes Bowles’ approach, they won’t have to either.

He already knows there’s room to grow. And he’s challenging his unit to do so.

“Looking at the cut-ups with the other coaches, we’ve got to have a lot more growth from everybody,” Bowles said. “I think they made the most growth in coming together as a unit. It wasn’t just the back end and the front end working separately. They came together at the right time. The [mental errors] has cut down. They got used to seeing each other and how to play. A couple guys learned how to play with some nicks and bruises and learned how to be professional about that. You get on one of those rolls and they come together. Looking at the tape, we have a lot of things that we can do better that we’re going to look at. We want to do better at all facets – front, middle and back end. We’re going to get to those tapes, we’re going to look at them when they get in here and get to work. We’ve got a lot to take care of.”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve heard someone on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ staff refer to the 2021 squad as a new team. Consistency is important though.

And if Bowles continues to press the message, and the defense buys in the way they have over the past two seasons, then we really could see an improved unit in 2021.

It appears the tone is being set early. And it won’t be long until the sounds of pads colliding fills the late summer and autumn afternoons once again.

For more on this story and for more on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast.

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