After surrendering a franchise-worst 494 points last year the Buccaneers defense has nowhere to go but up this season. Based on their efforts so far in the preseason, the ascension may be underway.
Before their outing against the Titans at Raymond James Stadium deteriorated into a sloppy 30-7 loss on Friday, the Bucs first-team defense turned in what most in the Tampa Bay locker room described as a second straight encouraging effort.
It wasn't perfect, not by any means. The Bucs missed some assignments, some tackles and missed some turnover opportunities, but a week after shutting out Miami for a quarter the first unit nearly shut out the Titans as well.
"The beginning of the game was (good), yeah," Schiano said of a defensive start in which Tampa Bay forced the Titans to go three and out on four of its first five possessions, including once on an Ahmad Black interception.
"We had a three-and-out, an interception and another three and out and that's a good way to start the game," Schiano said.
"But overall there was some sloppy play. We had some missed fits, some missed tackles. We weren't attacking the line of scrimmage."
The Titans certainly attacked the line of scrimmage. They forced Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman into several throwaways during his one quarter of work and later forced running back LeGarrette Blount to leave early with an injury.
"I think he'll be OK," Schiano said of Blount, who hobbled off the field and then to the locker room after going down during a second-quarter play. "I don't think it's too bad.
"It's not a knee. It's more up in his groin area. (The trainers) are not really sure exactly. He just got bent in a funny way.
"He's obviously going to be sore, but other than that I think he'll be OK."
Schiano could possibly say the same thing about his young defense, which is coming off a horrendous 2011 season in which youth and inexperience set the stage for a year in which it set several franchise marks for inefficiency.
In addition to allowing the most points in the franchise's 36-year history, the 2011 defense also established single-season franchise records for yards allowed per rushing attempt (5.01) and most games allowing 40 points or more (four).
It stands to reason then that if the Bucs are going regain any semblance of respect and relevance this year, their defense will have to play better. Friday was another indication it just may do that.
Though they struggled for a second straight week to take down the quarterback, getting just one sack from backup linebacker Dekoda Watson, the Bucs did generate enough penetration to force Titans starting quarterback Jake Locker into several throwaways and Black's interception.
That came on the third play of the second series, when defensive end Michael Bennett flushed Locker out of the pocket and into a throw across the field that safety Black picked off and returned to Tennessee's 2-yard line.
Two plays later, after a Blount run produced nothing on first down, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman fired a pass to Mike Williams in the front left corner of the end zone to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead.
"As an offense you love good field position," Freeman said. "It's a real gift when the defense can set you up in prime position, and you just have to make the most of it."
The Titans tried to make the most of a similar opportunity after Freeman's backup Dan Orlovsky fumbled the ball away while being sacked at his own 16 early in the second quarter, but the Bucs defense thwarted that effort.
Starting rookie linebacker Lavonte David teamed up with fellow rookie Najee Goode to stuff Chris Johnson for a 5-yard loss on first down and the Bucs coverage of tight end Jared Cook forced Locker into a throwaway on third down.
A 24-yard field goal by Rob Bironas followed that, which was followed by a 14-yard Johnson touchdown run two series earlier, giving the Titans a lead they would never relinquish.
The Bucs, though, still found some good in their beginning.
"We're still learning the defense, but I felt we looked pretty good," Bennett said of the first-team defense. "There were a lot of situations we had to deal with, and overall I thought we played well."
One area the Bucs didn't play so well in was against the run. Johnson ran 10 times for 46 yards and two touchdowns, both of which featured tackling opportunities the Bucs missed on.
"It really was a half of missed opportunity," said Schiano, who suffered his first defeat as an NFL coach. "We had some chances to make some plays that weren't tough plays and we didn't make them."
Some of those missed plays were from the pass rushers. The Bucs pressured Locker on several occasions but they didn't record a sack on any of his 11 attempts and let him out of the pocket for a 24-yard gain during the Titans first touchdown drive. That's a sign there is still work to be done.
"We have to work on being where we're supposed to be, on doing our job and just finishing," Bennett said.
It's not just the defense that has work to do. The Bucs offense line failed to provide consistent protection for Freeman and produced very few holes for the running backs.
For example, Blount finished the night with just 11 yards on eight carries and rookie Doug Martin, who had a 16-yard run called back by a holding penalty, gained just 23 yards on seven carries.
"I don't think we protected very well, so we'll have to see where the problem is there," Schiano said.
"Plus, [Tennessee] did a good job, so we have to give them some credit."