These past two days I’ve been lucky enough to sit in on three press conferences during Super Bowl media week. I participated in the press conferences for Buccaneers safeties coach Nick Rapone, Buccaneers defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and Buccaneers running back LeSean McCoy. I’ve picked out a few highlights for your reading pleasure.
Safeties Coach Nick Rapone
Nick spent a lot of time detailing his relationship with head coach Bruce Arians, someone he’s known since the 70’s. They both attended Virginia Tech at the same time, Arians was a senior and Rapone a freshman. Arians stayed on as a graduate assistant during Rapone’s time as a player, so they’ve been around each other for a long time. Rapone said Arians always had the energy, leadership and smarts to be a coach, and displayed that early on. He said Arian’s greatest attribute was his willingness to help others, often going out of his way to do so.
When asked about Arian’s one year break from coaching, Rapone said it was the perfect thing for Arians. Arians needed the year to recharge and see if he still had the passion. The year break helped him realize he did. Finally, Rapone said Arian’s handing over of play calling duties made him much more well rounded as a coach. Before, he was much more focused on the offense, now he’s splitting his time much more equally.
On Antoine Winfield Jr.
Rapone received a ton of questions about rookie sensation Antoine Winfield Jr. He was nothing but glowing for the first year player. What impressed him the most was Winfield Jr’s learning capability. He said Winfield Jr. picked up the defensive scheme by week two of training camp. Which is impressive because the Buccs safety scheme is anything but simple. Rapone raved about Winfield Jr’s maturity and ability to conduct himself the right way. While there were a few growing pains, the veterans on the squad really helped bring the younger guys along.
On Facing the Chiefs Offense
In regards to the Chiefs offense, Rapone was nothing but complimentary about how good the individual players were. Travis Kelce was a prime example. He’s fast, got great hands, can run every route and is obviously big and strong. The KC offense also throws a lot of looks your way. When talking about the first half beatdown in their first meeting, Rapone said it wasn’t like they ran out the same defense every time, it was different looks and the Chiefs kept beating it.
More than the scheme the Chiefs run (he brought up the Los Angeles Rams as a team that has really crazy stuff), he attributed the Chiefs success to the super high individual skill of every player on the Chiefs offense. Not just Kelce and Tyreek Hill, but all the other wide receivers and Clyde Edwards-Helaire as well. He stressed that discipline would be key. The secondary needs to stay in their zones, because Patrick Mahomes can make you pay with his out of the pocket passing. If you try and anticipate too much and leave your zone early, Mahomes will find it.
Defensive Lineman Ndamukong Suh
Suh was excited to be competing in his second Super Bowl. He was happy to be on Brady’s team instead of against him this time. Suh said this was really his ultimate goal. He’s picked up enough individual accolades in his career, now he wants a ring. Compared to last time, he felt like he had much more time to prepare for this one. Suh emphasized keeping a tight schedule. He stressed to his younger teammates the same thing. Be organized, but also have fun and embrace everything including the media. But he also warned them to be smart, and not give the opposing team any bulletin board material.
On the Defensive Gameplan
On the defensive focus, he considered the front seven to be the key to stopping the Chiefs high powered offense. In the first half of their first meeting with the Chiefs, Mahomes was far too comfortable and could keep his eyes downfield. In the second half when the Buccaneers were mounting a comeback, the defensive line did a much better job of getting to Mahomes and getting him rattled. The key to the Super Bowl will be getting after Mahomes early and often, and not let him scramble around. He has high expectations for the front seven. He called them ferocious, and applauded fellow linemen Vita Vea and William Gholston many times.
On the defense as a whole, Suh was happy. He loved that Bowles is willing to move him around and exploit matchups. He said Bowles is always putting guys in positions to succeed. Suh liked that Bowles did not rigidly stick people to one position. He also praised defensive line coach Lori Locust. He said she was a stickler to details, especially on footwork, and brought a welcome motherly feel. Suh also liked that his defense this year was a mix of young guys and veterans, compared to his Rams Super Bowl team that lacked youth. According to Suh, older players can have bad habits.
On Off the Field Issues
As a person connected with the Lions and Rams, Suh fielded a few questions about the blockbuster Matthew Stafford trade. He theorized that Stafford must have had a large say in where he went so he was happy Stafford was where he wanted to be. He said he immediately texted Goff to tell him Detroit is a wonderful city and if Goff ever needed anything Suh would be there to help.
As far as his future goes, he hopes to play in 2021, hopefully with Tampa. Suh represents himself as his own agent and really loved the more hands on and real time aspect of it. Suh did say though that he is expecting twins soon, so discussions will need to be had. He spends his offseasons in Portland, loves the town and the food, and has a great support staff behind him that gets him ready to play each year. Suh also briefly touched on the growing controversy with the lack of diversity in NFL coaching. Suh was proud to be on the most diverse coaching staff in the league. However he is often disappointed when he sees people like his Buccaneers coordinators or former coach Jim Caldwell passed up for opportunities or unjustly fired. He emphasized the need to keep fighting for diversity.
Running Back LeSean McCoy
McCoy answered a lot of questions comparing the Chiefs and Buccaneers. He said both rosters were stacked with talent and were extremely well coached. He saw similarities in Brady and Mahomes, saying both were ultra competitive and self-critical. After wins where they played poorly, while both would be happy, they would be raring to go play again and improve themselves. He said they reminded him of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Michael the older, established G.O.A.T, but with young Kobe gunning for him at every opportunity. He was also asked about how Brady and the Buccs compared to Lebron James and the Lakers. McCoy said he saw some similarities. Both are older but still incredible, and both always find a way to win no matter the cost.
On His Role and Future
McCoy accepted that his role on this team is more of an insurance policy. Due to that, McCoy has had to transition into the mentor role. While this started in Kansas City last year, it went to another level with the Buccaneers. He had to ask himself, if I’m not playing, how do I still help the team? He realized he can still be helpful by teaching the younger guys and guiding them through. Even though he doesn’t play much, he was still excited to be in the Super Bowl. He spent so many years as the lead back, the main guy on the team but never had a ton of team success. Now that he’s older he sees the success he has now as sort of a reward for his hard work back then.
To that end, he is still wondering about his future. He believes he could still be a main backup or third down back somewhere else, but right now he is winning and that is hard to say no to. When released from the Bills he faced a similar question. He had other opportunities to make more or play more. Eventually, he chose to play for the team with the best chance to win and they did. He says the fire is still there, but if he has two rings after this year you never know.
On Off the Field Issues
On his relationship with the Eagles, McCoy said he wants to retire there. He still has a ton of close friends there and Philly is where his heart is. He has had opportunities to come back but just never had the things line up properly. McCoy wishes he could’ve won a championship with the Eagles and that would have been the most special, but the timing sometimes doesn’t work out. He had nothing but good things to say about Miles Sanders. He said Sanders will be the next franchise back in Philly. Said Sanders was a lot faster than he was, and runs harder and is bigger than many give him credit for. He said that whoever the quarterback may be, the Eagles should let Sanders be the main guy on offense.
McCoy was also asked about the Buccaneers diverse coaching staff. Just like Suh, he said he was proud. He emphasized that having a diverse coaching staff made things more comfortable for everyone, especially with everything that happened this summer. Being able to sit down and talk to your coaches without fear of being judged was incredibly relieving. When asked about the two women on the coaching staff, McCoy said it was great. He said just like everyone else the female coaches are chasing their dreams. He also said the female coaches often work harder than the male coaches because they feel like they have more to prove, and all the female coaches he’s worked with were more than qualified to be there.
Well that’s all for now folks. Hope you enjoyed that exclusive look into the Super Bowl press conferences from the first two days. Keep on Back Sports Page (including our live blog) as I and many of our other writers will be in press conferences all week!
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