Carolina Panthers

Bucs' defense showing signs of former greatness

CHARLOTTE -- The names and faces have changed, but the Tampa Bay defense has regained some of its former standing.

The Buccaneers are fifth in the league in scoring defense, with a new crew in place of many of their legendary names.

Gone are Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Shelton Quarles. Now they're lining up kids like Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams, former Panthers defensive tackle Jovan Haye, rookie safety Tanard Jackson and third-year linebacker Barrett Ruud. Combined with veteran pickups such as defensive end Kevin Carter and linebacker Cato June, they're again playing the way they once did.

The only holdovers from their 2002 Super Bowl-winning defense are linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Ronde Barber, defensive end Greg Spires and cornerback Brian Kelly, along with long-time coordinator Monte Kiffin.

"As you might imagine, as with every team there is a lot of turnover," Barber said. "Those new guys, some of them have been around, and some of them are guys that are new to us this year. They all are fitting into the scheme and the scheme in itself hasn't really changed that much. It's the attitude that has changed.

"A lot of the beat writers around here want to say that we are getting back to the 2002 type of style of defense. But, in reality, it's been completely different, it's a different brand of football. I think a lot of it has to do with those young guys trying to set the mark, trying to make a name for them in Tampa now."

The changes were needed, as the Bucs' defense was no longer a dominant unit in 2006. They were 17th in yards allowed last year, after finishing no worse than fifth in that category from 2002 through 2005.

"A lot of people around here have a terrible taste in their mouth about last season," Barber said. "It's a constant reminder of what we don't want to be. Some of the new guys and a lot of the guys that were here last year understand what not to do. And understand what is acceptable and what our standards should be. That in it itself has made us better on this side of the ball."

And there's plenty of reason to believe the revival will continue, with Adams the player with perhaps the most potential of the new crop. The fourth overall pick in this year's draft, Adams hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet, but he has shown flashes.

"The media has been critical of him too because he doesn't have a sack, but we stand by our man here," Tampa coach Jon Gruden said. "We think he's going to be a great player. He's getting worked into a rotation at this point in time. I think it won't be long until he becomes and every-down player in the NFL.

"We're really pleased with his attitude, his effort, his athletic ability. He has made a couple nice plays, and hopefully we can get him going here a little bit more."

• SPEAK SOFTLY: Barber said the Bucs wouldn't repeat the mistake Atlanta made last week, when cornerback DeAngelo Hall cost his team a game via his feud with Panthers receiver Steve Smith.

"I've played against Steve a lot and I know one thing that making him mad is not the right thing to do," Barber said with a laugh. "I have a lot of respect for that guy. The way he approaches the game, the way he approaches himself. When he is playing angry, he is very hard to deal with. So, you won't see me or any of my DBs approaching him in that manner."

• BURYING THE PAST: Tampa Bay won the first two games of its NFC South rivalry with Carolina in 2002, but it has been all Panthers ever since, with Carolina winning seven of the last eight. It looked like Tampa had bucked that trend in last year's first meeting, overcoming a 17-0 deficit, before losing on a John Kasay field goal with two seconds left.

"I don't know, I try not to bring up the past," Gruden said. "We got a whole new cast of characters that could give a damn about the past. They weren't here, to be honest with you. So, I'm not going to spend too much time worrying about last year's last second breakdown here at home. We missed some open receivers down there in Carolina, turned over the ball four times. I'm not going to spend a lot of my time concerning myself with that."

• EXTRA POINTS: Middle linebacker Dan Morgan (ankle) was officially declared out for Sunday's game. Quarterback Jake Delhomme (elbow) is listed as doubtful. Everyone else practiced Friday, with linebacker Adam Seward (calf) questionable and guard Jeremy Bridges (toe) probable.

Cornerback Chris Gamble (team decision) was limited in practice, but no injury was declared.

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