Throughout OTAs and training camp, the Buccaneers defense made it a habit to run to the ball and knock it out of a player’s grasp, even after the whistle was blown.
Those seemingly minor details in practice paid off last Sunday, as players not only recognized the opportunity to punch a ball out – Sterling Moore on Willie Snead – but also the awareness to chase it down and recover, like Henry Melton did in the fourth quarter when Chris Conte jarred it loose from Mark Ingram.
Forcing turnovers is step one but, as head coach Lovie Smith pointed out on Monday, you have to run hard at all times and capitalize.
“It’s not just about takeaways. The first thing we talk about is playing hard,” Smith said. “If Henry Melton hadn’t been running to the football – he only made it by a few inches from what I’m told – if he hadn’t been running to the ball, that wouldn’t have happened. It’s good to see all that on video on why we force him to do that [in practice].”
Along with intercepting a pass and forcing a late fumble of his own, Conte was another player that showed quick reaction to chase a ball down. On the first of Jacquies Smith’s two sack-fumble plays, Conte was the first Bucs player to recognize the loose ball, running it down at the Saint’s two-yard line.
Although he was unable to recover from that far out, it showed his awareness of the ball, even from a deep safety position.
“Whenever the ball is on the ground you’ve just got to run,” Conte said. “You never know until the whistle is blown, so you kind of learn from past experience.”
Takeaways are a key part of the Bucs defensive game plan, whether it’s through the air or picking it up off the ground. Expect players to continue looking for opportunities to knock the ball out and flocking to recover, like they did in New Orleans.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I learned back in high school that if you don’t get it right in practice you’re not going to get it right in the game. Hopefully this turnover practice and mentality will win us a few games this year. If fact, I believe it already has.
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