He was helped a bit by his team, of course. Vea wasn’t able to return until the NFC Championship so that meant the Bucs had to get there first. “You keep winning, I’ll show up,” he told Head Coach Bruce Arians throughout the season.
The Bucs kept winning in large part to the unit that was still feeling the effects of Vea’s absence. Luckily, in a scheme as diverse as the one Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles employs, they were able to adapt and make up for losing Vea while he did everything he could to return.
“I think there’s a lot that goes into it,” Vea said about Bowles’ defense. “I think we’re all on the same page. I think that’s the key part. With us and each position group, I think everyone is tighter within their groups and closer with everybody on that defense that we’re able to work well together. Also, Coach Bowles brings a lot to the table with all the different defenses he has for us. It’s really set up for everyone to make plays and I think that’s what has really helped for everybody.”
Watching the game from a different perspective, often times on his couch at home for away games, allowed Vea a different perspective. He could see the strides the defense was making as an outside party looking in. The improvement was apparent to Arians, too.
“I think lightyears,” Arians said of how far the defense has come since the beginning of last season. “Just the mixture of all those guys in the secondary [and] solidifying the front. Again, going into last season, we had to get Shaq [Barrett] back [and] we had to get [Ndamukong] Suh back. Keeping everybody there [and] now getting Vita [Vea] back. That secondary was the key. Getting guys that could play man-to-man, that were aggressive bump-and-run type people that could also play zone, rather than soft zone players. It took a while, but I think Todd has just done a tremendous job and we’ve been winning with defense.”