With the dominance of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense on their march towards capturing the 2002 Super Bowl, again 'playing aggressive defense that can change the complexion of the game' has become the most sought commodity in the NFL this off-season.
Heading into the 2003 season, The Insiders takes a look at the what has become the latest follow the leader example in the league.
The perceived top-three defensive teams in the game reside in Tampa Bay. Miami, and Philadelphia, and we can't argue with those selections.
Tampa Bay is our choice as the number-one defense in the NFL. The Buccaneers defense is solid, the quality and depth that Tampa Bay possesses is clearly the strength of the team. Sporting a defensive line with Simeon Rice at defensive end and Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland at the defensive tackle spots, the defensive line in Tampa Bay is as solid as any in the game.
The Tampa Bay defense relies on aggression and quickness from the linebackers. In the 2002 season, the Buccaneers linebacking crew was dominant led by NFL defensive MVP Derrick Brooks. Shelton Quarles more than adequately mans the middle linebacker position and free agent acquisition Dwayne Rudd comes over from Cleveland to improve the speed and athletic ability of an already solid team of linebackers.
During the off-season starting safety Dexter Jackson left for Arizona in free agency, the Buccaneers have replaced Jackson with 2002 Super Bowl MVP Dwight Smith.
The Miami Dolphins has consistently been one of the best units the NFL has to offer. In Miami, the Dolphins have feasted off the luxury of having two of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. Miami has added depth this off-season with the acquisition of safety Sammy Knight and cornerback Terrell Buckley.
Somewhat disappointed with the overall play at the linebacker positions, the Dolphins went out and dealt for one of the best linebackers to ever play the game Junior Seau. Seau appears to be recovered from an injury plagued 2002 season and is having a solid training camp in South Florida. The heart of the Dolphins group of linebackers comes from Zach Thomas. Thomas is a tackling machine that shows no signs of slowing.
Philadelphia arguably has as good as a defense as any team in the game. One issue that arises when evaluating the Eagles defense is the state of this unit with many new faces starting in the 2003 season. The loss of defensive lineman Hugh Douglas could be a major loss for the team, getting to the quarterback could be the largest article the 2003 version of the Philadelphia Eagles face. The Eagles drafted Jerome McDougle to help offset the loss of Douglas and their is depth on the roster that could offset the loss of the pass-rusher, the question will be if those players can step-up and produce.
Concerned about the quality and depth at linebacker, the Eagles have added Nate Wayne and Mark Simoneau. Upgrading the roster at the linebacker position was critical to the team, the athleticism added with the acquisition of Wayne and Simoneau should enhance the Eagles attacking, blitzing defensive scheme.
The strength of this Eagles team comes from its defensive secondary. Led by safety Brian Dawkins, the Eagles can boast about having three of its starting defensive backs in the Pro-Bowl. With significant athleticism and depth at the cornerback position, the Eagles will continue to utilize an attacking style defense in the 2003 season.