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'It's still kind of surreal': Buccaneers writer Carmen Vitali details the Tom Brady effect in Tampa Bay

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As the Broncos approach the season, we're chatting with reporters who cover each of the team's opponents. We continue with Carmen Vitali, a staff writer for

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Aric DiLalla: Could you take me back to March in terms of the reaction around the organization after signing Tom Brady and what he's expected to bring to Tampa?

Carmen Vitali: "I think the overarching feeling by everyone was just a sense of disbelief. I don't know how much the current climate played into it, not being able to have a press conference with him, actually have him in the building [and] see him in Bucs gear, his Bucs uniform. None of it felt real for a really long time. But I think that the biggest thing was it already shifted the dynamic. To have someone like that with that much experience and that much invested in another franchise jump ship — no pun intended — to come to Tampa, I think it really gave a lot of the guys a confidence boost in a lot of ways. It was like 'We have a great team, and now people might know that we have a great team.' So I think everyone's really excited to learn from him. [It's] the attitude and the work ethic that he brings in addition to the experience. I know that obviously our receivers are super excited, our defense is even really excited just to know that they have that kind of guy on the other side of the ball. But yeah, it's still kind of surreal in a lot of ways."

AD: How has the process gone of Brady learning a new system with Bruce Arians after spending so long in New England?

CV: "From what I've heard, everything has been fine. I think everyone heard the story of him accidentally walking into somebody else's house when he was going to pick up the playbook from [Offensive Coordinator] Byron Leftwich, so I think it maybe got off to a little bit of a rocky start. But anything that Bruce has said about him, anything Jason Licht our GM has said about him, obviously he's the consummate pro and they're not worried about him picking anything up or understanding any sort of scheme that he's now having to learn. From everything we've heard, which again is probably not much, … it's been good so far."

AD: Maybe the bigger surprise was Rob Gronkowski being traded to Tampa Bay before the draft. What are the expectations for him? Is he the clear-cut starter there at tight end?

CV: "In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. Just because I don't think you want to necessarily have him shoulder the load — at least not initially. He has spent a year out of football. When we got on to talk to him for the first time on Zoom, he said that he hadn't really picked up a football in a long time and then a couple months before the whole coming-out-of-retirement thing happened, he threw the ball around with Tom. That was the first time he had touched it in almost a year. He's obviously one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game, so I'm not worried about his ball skills or anything like that. And obviously playing with a guy like Tom Brady, you're going to work through anything you have to do to get back up to speed. I mean, I don't want his arrival to overshadow the tight end talent that we already have. O.J. Howard, Cam Brate and then even when you look down the line at like Anthony Auclair, who was primarily used as a blocking tight end. Even in training camp last year, I remember seeing him really starting to focus on his hands and pass-catching ability. There were some catches that I saw him make that I was like, 'Wow, he's a viable threat in the passing game.' And even down to Tanner Hudson. That position group is so deep that even if Gronk is the bona fide starter, you don't need to put the entire tight end game on him. You've got a ton of guys to back him up, and I think that you're going to see a lot of two- and even three-tight-end sets out there. The Bucs probably put out more three-tight-end sets than most people realize and two-tight-end sets. O.J. Howard got just as many snaps if not more last year than he ever has. His production wasn't there, but he's being used in different ways. That's kind of the point of him developing his game more. You're going to see a lot of tight ends, I feel like. People think that Bruce Arians doesn't use them, but he just uses them in different ways. So we'll see what that ends up looking like."

AD: How did Mike Evans and Chris Godwin react to the Brady news, and do you think they could compete to be the league's best wide-receiving duo?

CV: "I mean, I would have to think that, especially in their minds, they are the league's best duo at this point. They have a tremendous amount of confidence in themselves, and rightfully so. They are super excited to play with Tom and to learn from him. That's not a knock — they're very close still with Jameis [Winston]. I think that there was a little bit of trying to work around that dynamic where he was a great quarterback for them. For Mike Evans, that was the longest time he had ever been with a quarterback, and they have a tremendous relationship. But when you do get the chance to catch passes from a guy that's been in the league for 20 years and is arguably the best to ever do it, I think you're obviously super excited. It's really exciting for Brady himself. Obviously, that played a big role in him coming to Tampa, because the weapons he's going to be surrounded with here are unlike pretty much any team he had in New England save for maybe the 2011 team. I think that they understand that they're being looked to, to kind of lead this offense and [help] Brady getting acclimated. They're excited and I can't wait to see what they're able to do this year."

AD: The Bucs moved up a spot in the 2020 NFL Draft to draft Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs. Is he going to be the Day 1 starter at right tackle?

CV: "He should be kind of a plug-and-play guy at right tackle, but Bruce [Arians] did say they're not going to push him into anything unless he's ready. Obviously that position is one where the jump from college to pro for offensive lineman is one of the most stark and it takes a little bit of development. He comes from a big-time program in Iowa. It's a program that Bruce is very familiar with and Jason. They knew Tristan's offensive line coach. It should be a pretty seamless transition to get him up to speed, and should that be case, the Bucs have a pretty obvious at right tackle and he'd be the one to fill it — especially when you trade up in the first round to go get him."

AD: The Bucs' rushing defense was first in 2019, but the passing defense ranked 30th. Where does that entire unit stand right now?

CV: "The passing defense got a lot better toward the end of the year. … I think [what] the secondary especially is stressing now this offseason [is] an uptick in takeaways. They want to turn those passes defensed into interceptions. … They kind of pulled it all together toward the end, and I think the emphasis now is just continuing what they started there. You know the run defense is going to be fine. You're returning all your starters on your front seven, so you know up front, you're good. One of the things one of our cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting said just last week was by the Bucs resigning all of those guys, what it means to the back end is it basically means interceptions. They know they're going to pressure the quarterback. They're going to force some errant throws, and there's going to be a lot of balls in the air. They're just going to have to capitalize on it. To take that next step, they're definitely going to have to get more takeaways and improve that turnover margin. That's kind of what killed the team last year, which was obviously a combination of the offensive turnovers and the defensive takeaways. We'll see if we can cut down the turnovers on offense and increase the takeaways on defense, [if] that'll propel us into the postseason hopefully."

AD: What's Tampa's perspective on this Week 3 game and what do you think the keys will be?

CV: "We did a roundtable discussion last week on … about the toughest stretch of the schedule, and I actually said the stretch that includes the game out in Denver and then the subsequent two weeks after because we have to play a Thursday night game two weeks later in Chicago. One of the things about Denver — the last time the Bucs have been there is 2012 — … the altitude takes some adjusting and it puts your conditioning to the test from that standpoint. That will definitely be something that I think they'll have to adjust to. With this current climate, I'm not exactly sure how that's going to work — whether or not we can get out there early. As far as the team, you guys had a good rushing attack. … It's going to be another test for the run defense. Drew Lock is one of those guys that he's kind of an unknown right now for this team. [There's] minimal tape obviously of him from last year, so getting you guys early in the season, there's not going to be much tape on Drew [in the new offensive system] when we come to town. I think there's a lot of unknowns there. Obviously, Von Miller is one of the best if not the best outside linebackers to play the game. I think that Tom Brady is very well aware of him and how effective he is in the pass rush. I definitely think that no one is taking this matchup lightly and we'll see. There will just be so many unknowns playing Week 3 of the season."

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