Defense Turns Up Heat
In addressing the defense in team meetings Saturday night, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin threw out a number. Sixteen. 'You're judged on 16 Sundays a year,' Kiffin told his players, 'so let's have some fun and make them count.'

Judging by the defensive performance against New Orleans, not only did the Bucs make Sunday's victory count, they also conjured up images and memories of past defensive glory days.

Tampa Bay's defense collected two turnovers and sacked Drew Brees twice while pressuring the Pro Bowl quarterback on numerous occasions. The defense also stopped the run, limiting Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush to 49 and 27 yards, respectively.

'There were a couple of times last year, but not as prevalent as in 2005 when I first got down here,' defensive tackle Chris Hovan said of the Bucs' defense swarming to the ball. 'We were humming Sunday. We were humming.'

Brees, who finished with a quarterback rating of 74.1, looked rattled for most of the game, missing open receivers on several occasions. 'He didn't know what to do sometimes,' Hovan said. 'That just gives credit to our coverage because he was going to first, second and third looks and he couldn't find them and that gave us a half-second or second to get to him and it showed. ... The pressure was there. He felt the pressure.'

Third-year defensive tackle Jovan Haye picked up his first career sack, as did first-year defensive end Greg White. The defensive line was aided by a rotation that resulted in miscommunication at times, but also kept players' legs fresh in the sweltering heat.

'The vets really helped me out, helped me learn the system,' said White, a former Arena League player. 'In the Arena League, it's like see ball, get ball. It's easy for me to do that, but when you've got to scheme and stuff, I'm not really trained.'

As much as they've preached pressure, thanks to their second-to-last ranking with 25 sacks in 2006, the defense's bigger emphasis has been on capping off plays. 'It's been our theme this year,' Kiffin said. 'You can talk about all these schemes and this and that and every single thing's important, but you've got to run and hit. You've got to run to the football and you've got to tackle.'

Veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks, questioned by many critics about whether he had lost a step, was second on the team with nine tackles (eight solo) and one forced fumble. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led with 11 tackles, two forced fumbles and one recovered fumble that led to Tampa Bay's first TD.

Brooks left the locker room before the media was let in. But his teammates, including strongside linebacker Cato June, defended the 10-time Pro Bowler. 'He played great,' said June, whose leaping third-quarter interception set up another scoring drive. 'He's a leader. He gets everybody going. He puts everybody in position and I don't see that step that everybody's talking about.'

June showed off his leadership, or actually his acting skills, when he fell to the ground after Bush shoved him following an 11-yard run, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the Saints tailback. 'I've taken some acting classes in my day,' June said. 'I figured when he went to push me, just throw the hands up and fall backwards. You have to keep your cool and your composure and I'm having fun out there.'

It was reminiscent of the fun of the good ol' days when the Bucs' defense set the tone. 'This has been a defensive-minded city,' Kiffin said. 'It sure is fun to have an offense. I don't care if it becomes an offensive-minded city, but the fans do like defense. They like it when you run and hit.'

Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 17 September 2007