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All eyes will be on quarterback Tom Brady this fall as he leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 season, but their defense might play an even bigger role in how far the Bucs go this upcoming season.

From 2001 to 2019, the Patriots led the league in winning percentage with .763, but they also had the leagues best defense as well. In the past five years, the Patriots allowed an average of just 17 points per game. The Bucs on the other hand have had a struggling defense for the better part of the last decade.

But the Bucs believe they’re on the rise with promising young talent like linebacker Devin White, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Mike Edwards, all of which are entering their sophomore seasons.

Then there’s also cornerback Carlton Davis and safety Jordan Whitehead, who are in their third seasons. Davis led the NFL in 2019 with 18 pass breakups.

“Physically, they’ve grown. Mentally, they’re still puppies,” Bowles said of the young group. “They played what we called last year and they played it well; they understand what we’re doing on defense. But this year, they have to graduate mentally to understand what the offenses are trying to do to them to get a better grasp of the game that way.”

Losing to the Seahawks 40-34 in overtime last season – a game where Dean allowed three touchdown passes and 155 receiving yards – was a turning point. Dean and Murphy-Bunting then started coming to Bowles’ office to go over film.

“Our defense is not going to be taken lightly,” Murphy-Bunting said. “We’re not going to act like we’re going to allow our offense to carry us, because at the end of the day we have to hold our own.”

The Bucs’ secondary gave up 28 points per game in 2019 – which ranked them 29th in the league – but they were able to lower that number to 22.66 in the final six weeks. Buccaneers’ opponents went from completing just over 65% of passes in weeks 1-11 to only 55.4% in weeks 12-17.

“We’ve got to get better from a disguise [coverage] standpoint of understanding the details of the defense. I think we can take leaps and bounds in that aspect,” Bowles said.