Now Play Follow The Leader

July 10th, 2018

BY IRA KAUFMAN

In more ways than one, Kwon Alexander reigns as Tampa Bay’s man in the middle.

Dirk Koetter admittedly craves a badass football team and nobody on the Buc roster represents that mindset more than a fourth-year middle linebacker who talks trash and cleans up the garbage in the trenches.

Alexander, who turns 24 on Aug. 3, saw his play drop off a bit after leading the NFL in solo tackles in 2016. A hamstring injury in the opener forced him to the sidelines for four games, but Alexander wasn’t quite the same force when he returned.

That’s not to say the Bucs can get along without him. In the four games Alexander missed, opponents averaged 30 points and 427 yards.

Those are brutal numbers, even by Buc standards.

Gerald McCoy has been the face of this defense since 2010, but Alexander has been the soul since Jason Licht plucked him out of LSU.

When Swaggy Baker finally wore out his welcome with a bonehead play in Charlotte, it was Alexander who confronted the free-agent bust in a contentious locker room.

Baker is gone, baby, gone, while Alexander stands ready to play the heavy again, if necessary.

“Yeah, I am a leader of this defense,” he says. “I am the middle linebacker. I speak my mind, regardless of what it is. I feel like I should open my mouth more, so I have been doing that more since I got here and that is what I am going to keep doing.”

Third Best

The NFC South is known as a quarterback-rich division, but the middle linebacker play isn’t too shabby, either. Right now, I’ve got Alexander tabbed at No. 3 behind Luke Kuechly and Deion Jones.

Yes, Deion Jones. In case you haven’t noticed, Jones registered 138 tackles for Atlanta last year while matching Alexander’s three interceptions. He also had 13 passes defended while roaming sideline to sideline.

Kuechly is well on his way to Canton. Enough said.

The Bucs believe Alexander has it in him to develop into a perennial Pro Bowler. He earned that honor last season as an injury replacement and he liked the company.

Everywhere he looked, he was surrounded by leaders.

“Everyone is being held accountable for what they need to be doing,” he says. “So if they’re not doing it, then I’m going to get on their butt — regardless of whoever it is. I’m going to be a leader of this team and I’m going to let people know I’m a leader.”

Even when Alexander returned from injury, Tampa Bay’s defense was ravaged far too often. As the middle linebacker, Alexander assumes his fair share of the blame for a 5-11 debacle.

He’s hungry for another chance.

“My goal this year was eating healthier, so, I feel way better than I ever felt,” he says. “Just being smarter in the game. I have been watching a lot of film, way more film than I have been. I have been sitting in my room just beating myself down in film just watching, especially my bad plays more than my good plays.”

In The Zone

Those good plays will multiply if Tampa Bay’s overhauled defensive line plays up to expectations. Big bodies like Beau Allen and Vita Vea are supposed to occupy blockers and keep Alexander free to make plays.

“That’s the philosophy,” says Lavonte David. “You want your D-linemen to get up field and let your linebackers flow. That’s the way Coach Smith wants it and I feel like those guys are going to get the job done.

“With our division, you have a lot of teams that run that zone-running scheme. So when you have a guy who can get up field and disrupt, or a big guy who takes up two guys, it’s really smooth for linebackers to flow.”

After three seasons and 28 losses, Alexander realizes talk is cheap. He’s placed himself in line for a lucrative contract extension, so it’s time for the Bucs to play follow the leader.

Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in town. He has hung his hat at JoeBucsFan.com world headquarters since July 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays during football season, and see him now on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360 (aka BayNews 9). Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday show and enjoys beet salads, Riesling, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

15 Responses to “Now Play Follow The Leader”

  1. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    I am expecting a great year for all of our Buc LBs….

    I will never forget a couple of years ago when, after his Brother passed, Kwon took the ball away from Julio Jones…..nobody does that….but he did.

    That was one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen.

  2. Alanbucsfan Says:

    Upgrades on DL and hopefully secondary should give offense more opportunities.
    An effective running game is essential to keep pressure off qb, Fitzpatrick or Winston, and hopefully eliminate alot of turnovers.
    Stop the run, run the football and minimize turnovers equals wins.
    All the hype about great receivers and passing yards produced how many wins last year?

  3. JMan5 Says:

    Lavonte is the most underrated player in the NFL. Been a fan since his strip sack touchdown over the yuckeyes when he was at Nebraska.

  4. Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    Who is a leader on the Bucs is a sore subject with me. They all talk about, but it took until the last game of the season for someone to get into Baker’s face. I love McCoy, but where were you? Jameis? David? I just don’t get it. Kwon, if you finally learned that, great; stay with it and get in the face of more players.

  5. Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    Atlanta’s Dline was way better than ours (and it is still better, but by how much?). So the Dirty Bird’s MLB is going to clean up on tackles.

    I will be very interested in seeing how Kwon does with his new Dline. I think he will shine this year!

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    Excellent observations Alanbucsfan. Bucs are better structured this year to improve performance on both sides of the ball (and on STs).

    Really hoping that the beefed up DLine frees up our LBs (and secondary) like you predict Ira. I’ve seen estimates as high as 40 sacks this year, but I’d be perfectly happy with more consistent QB pressure. Still not convinced Kwon is our best option in the middle, but I’m hoping that he proves me wrong. I tend to prefer the bigger MLBs like Hardy Nickerson but I’ll readily admit that smaller, faster MLBs like Kwon can do very well with a great DLine in front of them.

  7. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    Stopping the run was not our only weakness the last few years. We got burned badly with passes to the middle. Hopefully, the new DLine will fix that.

    I expect Kwon to have an elite year, but I suspect our Safeties will have good years too.

    In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that well have 5 or more Probowlers and 6 or more Top 100 after this season.

  8. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Bonzai

    Agree that stopping the run was not only weakness. And I know we’re talking defense but there is a synergy between offense and defense.

    And we could not only stop the run we ourselves could not run it.

    Really does anybody remember any team in the NFL being a playoff contender without being able to stop the run or run it themselves.

  9. BrianBucs Says:

    I will be very curious to see the Bucs defense early season. With some of the F.A.’s they signed, then drafting 2 cover corners I’m expecting a minor scheme change.

  10. 813bucboi Says:

    love kwon and believe he’s the leader we’ve been missing but I like beckwith’s play at MLB vs kwon….let kwon play the SAM….beckwith sheds blocks and wraps up in the middle better than kwon imo…..

    #NOEXCUSESIN2018!!!!….#PRESSURESONTHECOACHES!!!!….GO BUCS!!!!

  11. BucNole Says:

    There had better be an enormous scheme change from last year – on both sides of the ball.
    I would love to see how the plays were called vs the plays that were run.
    We know for a fact that Winston audibled out of the last play of the Saints game.
    Might shed some light on how this offense is actually run. . . .

  12. Not there yet Says:

    Nah your nuts. Jones isn’t a better player than Kwon, you have to do better than pointing at one year of stats to say that. Kwon numbers last year still compare even missing 4 games but thanks for motivating him with silly talk.

  13. Bucsfanman Says:

    Alanbucsfan- Well said! A well-balanced offensive attack will also keep the defense fresh and off the field. People keep talking about a “passing league”. Well, if you can’t run the football, you’re not going to win many games.

    I like Kwon, but Kwon needs to clean a few things up, like tackling for instance!

  14. Buccfan37 Says:

    The more positive I read the more positive I get concerning the Bucs chances to effectively compete at an NFL standard winning competition level. Save the potential woes for later.

  15. Jmarkbuc Says:

    Tbbf

    Absolutely that was an awesome play in Atl. It’s where the ” Legend of Kwon” began… Unfortunately not all that much has happened since. Some but not a lot

    DBrooks made 4-5 huge plays a game.

    The talking is nice, but it’s talking

    Excellence that feels it has to be proclaimed, by the mere fact of its proclamation, admits the doubt of it’s existence

 

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