Given his defensive background, new Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano is paying especially close attention to an overhauled unit that yielded 31 points and 394 yards per game last season.
Ronde Barber is shifting to safety after 15 NFL seasons at corner and the Bucs are likely to feature at least four new defensive starters when Carolina arrives for the Sept. 9 season opener.
Roy Miller is competing with Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle to replace Brian Price and free-agent pickup Eric Wright figures to open at corner opposite Aqib Talib. First-round pick Mark Barron will start at safety and rookie Lavonte David is likely to open at weak-side linebacker.
"I believe the front four sets the tone for your defense,'' Schiano said after Monday's practice. "Linebackers are important. I played the position and I love the position, but at the end of the day, the front four is the key. They make everything else go.''
One feature of Monday's practice was an individual pass rush drill that matched one defensive lineman against a blocker.
Right DE Adrian Clayborn, who led Tampa Bay with 7.5 sacks as a rookie last season, repeatedly gained the edge against LT Demar Dotson, who is filling in for injured Donald Penn (calf). DT Gerald McCoy displayed impressive burst and determination while going up against mammoth LG Carl Nicks.
The secondary is becoming a cohesive unit early in camp, Schiano said.
"They're working hard,'' said Schiano, who played linebacker in high school and at Bucknell. "At that position, you have to cover the best athletes in the game, and they know where they're going and we don't. As a secondary, I think it takes the longest to gel, but they are working their tails off and to have Ronde back there is a blessing.''
Center of attention
Jeremy Zuttah, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, has finally found a permanent home as he replaces veteran Jeff Faine at center.
Zuttah's versatility has helped him fill in for injured players across the offensive line, but the Bucs decided his best position is anchoring a front that features Pro Bowl players in Penn, Nicks and Davin Joseph.
"Jeremy's very intelligent and he can learn things very quickly,'' Schiano said. "With all the different blitz looks you get in this day and age of football, you really need someone who understands concepts. You're going to get new looks, but if your center can identify and communicate, it kind of calms everyone down.''
Getting after it
Practicing in pads might add sweat and strain to training camp, but Bucs players welcome the chance to channel their aggression.
"We call it Hollywood football,'' RT Jeremy Trueblood said of practicing without pads. "It's fake; it's not real football. It's alright for the guys who catch and run the football, but it's not real football for us.''
When the pads came on for the second consecutive day, OLB Quincy Black capitalized with a few jarring hits.
"It's more of an attacking scheme we're using this year,'' said Black, who finished with 75 tackles last season. "It's not as much reading. It's more get up and go and everything else falls into place.''
Meet and greet
The Bucs have added some FanFest elements before Saturday's night practice at Raymond James Stadium. The doors open at 4 p.m. and all Buccaneers players will be available for an autograph session in the main concourse.
Parking and admittance to the stadium are free and there will be a fireworks display after the 150-minute practice.
WR Arrelious Benn, still sidelined by a knee injury, cheered on his teammates at Monday's practice, which was closed to the public. …David, a second-round pick out of Nebraska, has earned the nickname "Flash'' among teammates for his outstanding speed and quickness.