TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Kwon Alexander smiles at the suggestion that he’s a tackling machine who isn’t content with being one of the top young linebackers in the NFL.
Tampa Bay’s emerging star wants to be the best, period, while also helping an improved defense do its part to transform the Buccaneers into a playoff team.
“We just have to come together,” Alexander said of heightened expectations for a club coming off a 9-7 finish.
The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, but are excited about the prospects of ending the drought this year.
Alexander’s development at middle linebacker since entering the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 is one of the reasons why.
Along with tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David, pass rushers Noah Spence and Robert Ayers Jr., and cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III, the Bucs feel they’re well on their way to assembling a championship-caliber defense.
“We aren’t worrying about what everybody else thinks right now,” said Alexander, who turned 23 on Thursday.
“If we come together, as a team and as a family, we can do a lot of big things,” he added. “That’s all we are worrying about right now.”
Despite not being drafted until the fourth round, No. 124 overall, Alexander became an immediate starter as a rookie.
In addition to being the team’s leading tackler, he’s responsible for making sure the defense is aligned correctly. He’s flourished despite having to learn new defensive systems each of his first two seasons.
“Kwon makes (pre-snap adjustments) and then everybody echoes Kwon’s call. … Whatever he says, goes,” David said. “So if he’s wrong, everybody is wrong. If he’s right, everybody is right and we are in a good situation.”
After a slow start, the Bucs improved steadily in the scheme installed by defensive coordinator Mike Smith before last season.
A confident Alexander expects the trend to continue this year.
“We are going to be able to hit the ground running,” said the 6-foot-1, 227-pound native of Oxford, Alabama.
“It took us a little minute last year to get it all together, but then we put it together and we made our run,” Alexander added. “Now we’re (comfortable) with the system. Everybody just has to get back into the playbook and get it all down pat with no mistakes.”
Receiver Mike Evans said there’s no limit to how good a player Alexander can be. He feels it’s just a matter of time before the young linebacker begins receiving the type of national recognition he deserves.
“That’s a lot of guys on our team. We don’t have that big of a market yet,” Evans said, adding that team success will change that.
“I feel like when we start winning, we will all get our respect, you know what I mean?” the linebacker said. “That’s the plan, you know, to start winning and get some games under our belt. … I’m not rushing it. It’s going to come.”
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