The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense struggled through the early going of the 2019 season, thanks in large part to playing as many as six different rookies in the starting lineup.
But that trial-by-fire in the first half of the season led to a strong finish, as the Bucs were one of the NFL's best defenses over the final six weeks of their 2019 slate.
Heading into the 2020 season, Tampa Bay had little if any turnover on defense, both in terms of coaching and roster makeup. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles returns with his hybrid, aggressive scheme, and the entire starting lineup returns, as well. That continuity should have the Bucs defense ready to hit the ground running this fall.
"Everybody knows we have that chemistry already locked in and we're running the same kinds of plays that we basically mastered at the end of last year," said second-year linebacker Devin White via video conference call last week. "Now, we can build off what we did last year and keep striving."
Bowles cautions that every year brings new challenges, but he agrees that the chemistry they've built as a unit up to this point should help them succeed again in 2020.
"You start over every year," Bowles said via video conference call Thursday. "I know we ended up pretty good and played a few good games ending out the season, but every year is a new year. You can't rely on the past. But the fact that we've got the same guys back, there's some continuity and the fact that they're starting to get it mentally with each other, as well as the opposition, is encouraging. But again, we have to get everybody in and start that over again."
The Bucs boasted the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense last season, and NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett returns after racking up 19.5 sacks in 2019. The rest of this unit is in tact at every level, with veterans leaders like Lavonte David and Jason Pierre-Paul balancing the group with young stars in the making like corner trio Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean.
Much of the attention will be focused on Tom Brady and the Bucs' star-studded offense in 2020, but the defense will have just as much to say about a potential Super Bowl run.