When free agency opened up this offseason, much was made of the Buccaneers’ first two moves. There was J.R. Sweezy, the big Guard meant to replace Logan Mankins. He brought some hype, having gone to two Super Bowls with the Seahawks, and winning one. Then, there was Brent Grimes. A four-time Pro Bowl Cornerback whose reputation for incredible athleticism and big plays preceded himself. Fans were predictably excited about these pick-ups, and some off-the-field issues with Brent Grimes’ wife garnered a great deal of focus, so a fairly unknown Defensive End from the Giants by the name of Robert Ayers snuck in under the radar for most fans. There were bigger fish to fry, and the attention quickly went from Brent Grimes to the upcoming NFL Draft.
When the Bucs drafted the big college names of Vernon Hargreaves III, and Noah Spence, fans had red meat to dive into. Why look into a 30 year old player picked up in free agency who they’d likely never heard of? There were the two huge names being added to the defense. That’s what was exciting.
Here and now at the end of training camp, the fans were proven right to be excited by the two large-named defensive draft picks, as they’ve shown out during the summer. If you listen to who is getting all the attention around One Buc Place though, it’s Robert Ayers.
Ayers didn’t make much noise early in his career in Denver, but in the last two years with the Giants, he’s begun to raise eyebrows. Especially last year’s 9.5 sack output, including two double-sack games, with 11 tackles for a loss sprinkled in by the end of the season. Most impressively, he did that in 12 games, having missed 4 games with an early season ankle injury. But, the numbers aren’t what excites about Ayers. It’s listening to the other players talk about him.
Robert has shown up in Tampa with an attitude. He’s a native of New Jersey, and he largely attributes it to that. OT Demar Dotson explains it this way, “He almost got that bully-like, you know, atmosphere with him. It’s kind of like, man, when I get a chance, I want to take a shot on this guy, man. You know, this guy coming from a new team, man, and trying to bring that bully-like mentality. But it’s good. It’s going to make us better. It’s going to make that D-line tough. And it’s going to make us a tough offense because he’s bringing it every play. He just wants to see guys compete. It don’t matter if it’s coming from the offensive side or the defensive side.”
These are exciting words to hear for Bucs fans who have been sorely missing that quality in a player since the departure of Warren Sapp. DT Gerald McCoy adds, “He’s not a mean guy, but [his attitude] that’s what makes him him, and that’s what we need.”
Second year QB Jameis Winston also has nothing but ringing endorsements for Ayers. “And you can tell as a veteran, he’s brought that ‘every single play I’m going full speed’ mentality to that defensive side of the ball. You see Robert Ayers go out there, make a what-would-be-called-a-sack on me [in practice], but they still let us throw, and then the next play it’s a competitive atmosphere. Now Gerald [McCoy] is like, ‘Man, I’m going to get a sack because I’m not going to let Robert Ayers outdo me out here. I’m the best player on this team.’ And then Gerald goes out and makes two plays in a row, then you see Clinton McDonald like, ‘Hold on, now everybody else making plays, I’ve got to go and make me a play.’ And that’s what Robert brings to this team, and that goes back to that winning mentality.”
Ayers has made a name for himself among Bucs players for bringing it every play, every practice. The O-line frustratingly expresses sometimes that he just never gives them a break. That can’t be a bad thing for a team who prior to last year, has had a general malaise and lack of tenacity. Ayers has certainly added that tenacity on the defensive side of the football.
Early in training camp when he was asked about the defensive progress up to that point. “I want to be where we need to be. I want to get to the end of the tunnel,” Ayers answered. “I want to get to the big game. I want to win. That’s all I care about is winning, so until we win we’re terrible.” Those are the words of a man on a mission. Bucs fans are surely hoping that he accomplishes it.
Photo credit to Cliff Welch / Pewter Report.