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This is the key to success for the Bucs defense this season

It’s easy to overachieve when expectations are low. But what if you're already on top?
Credit: AP
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis, front, runs with the ball away from Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson, during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

TAMPA, Fla. — The moniker “Grave Diggers” was widely used by the Buccaneers’ secondary, primarily through their postseason run.

Shutting down opposing quarterbacks Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes en route to a Super Bowl title is no easy task, yet the secondary that was ranked pre-season by Pro Football Focus as the worst in the league managed to get it done.

Now, they have a newly built reputation to live up to.

Ahead of the 2021 season and a push for a repeat, the Bucs’ defense is ranked sixth by that same Pro Football Focus, ranked first by SportsNaut, and second by CBS Sports. In overall team rankings, the Bucs are ranked second by NBC Sports and first by USA Today. How does a team - and a secondary - that was doubted by so many last year maintain a chip on their shoulder when they’re the reigning Super Bowl champions?

For this squad, the challenge - or more importantly, the chip - has to come from within. Whether it’s setting individual goals that they have to reach or manufacturing hate, this team is the prime example of needing self-motivation.

When Jon Gruden came to the Buccaneers ahead of the 2002 season, he called out the defense. He said that all he’s heard about it is how great they were, so he challenged them to score on defense. They answered the bell and reached the number Gruden put in front of them. For Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, it could be a challenge amongst themselves. Who leads in interceptions? Pass breakups? Forced fumbles? Opposing quarterback rating when targeting? Perhaps they reach an agreement that, as a unit, they have to hit certain numbers.

They could go the route of Michael Jordan and manufacture disrespect that isn’t actually there. Leading up to the kickoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, we could hear Dak Prescott talk about Vita Vea, Shaquil Barrett and Devin White and the impact those guys have on the game. That’s plausible, right? The corners could look at that press conference and say, “Hey, he didn’t mention us. Why aren’t we getting talked about? Does he think we’re pushovers?” And boom−you have a chip on your shoulder right out of the gate. Prescott wouldn’t have meant any disrespect at all, but the secondary would have to take it as such.

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

RELATED: Rounding out the Bucs' 2021 roster: Who will make the cut?

It’s easy to overachieve when the expectations are low and you’re tagged as the worst at your position groups among the entire NFL. When you’re on top? Well, then you not only have to reach much higher expectations, but you must surpass them if you’re going to win a second consecutive championship.

If not, the “Grave Diggers” might just dig their own grave.

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

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