To understand the present Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive philosophy, it is important to understand the coaching staff’s past philosophies. While much will rely on future personnel movement via the NFl Draft, Ronde Barber, Aqib Talib and possibly free agency, we can decipher the basis of this defense. By doing so, it gives us an idea of the defensive scheme the Buccaneers would like to play this season.
Both Schiano and his mentor Butch Davis have run a base 4-3 “over” system in their careers with a focus on being as aggressive as possible. Butch Davis helped develop Schiano’s philosophy and is exactly why he was brought in as “special assistant to the head coach”. The 4-3 “over” will be the base scheme with a one-gap system up front. In other words, a focus on making offenses adapt to the Buccaneers “bull rush”. While it sounds simple enough, there is more to it than just the front four charging through a hole. As you will read, this is not a scheme which can be successful with missed tackles or assignments. It is why accountability has been the mantra of Schiano since day one.
In a 2000 American Football Coaches Association manual, former Miami Hurricanes defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano (Colts H.C.) referenced what head coach Butch Davis and DC Greg Schiano’s philosophies were during his time at Miami. “Our overall defensive philosophy is as follows: Stop the run. Win third down. Create turnovers.” While none of this isn’t what we have already heard, he went on to explain something which is very important for the Bucs defense. “We have to play great run defense…and force our opponents into third and long situations. The way we are going to do this is to implement our safety into the run front”. Pagano goes on to break down a number of defensive fronts which puts the strong safety as a key cog of success. Think John Lynch and his role in blitz and run stopping schemes during his time in Tampa. The safety will have to mask his intent and trick the quarterback into believing he is playing coverage, only to wind up blasting into the backfield.
The problem now is Sean Jones is a free agent testing the market, as is Corey Lynch. While neither was truly stood out under coach Raheem Morris, it leaves Cody Grimm and Ahmad Black as the only two players most likely to take on the “John Lynch” role. Grimm has had durability issues and Black is entering year two, so he comes in with questions. The pickings are slim in the free agency market, so question #1 becomes if Grimm or Black are capable enough to make Schiano’s vision possible. If Grimm can stay healthy, the answer is yes. If not, Ahmad Black becomes one of the most important players to watch during camp. There is also the possibility of Larry Asante or Tanard Jackson moving into the role if he can return to his former self.
During Butch Davis’ tenure in Dallas, he served as defensive line coach and defensive coordinator for Cowboy teams which won two Super Bowls. His 4-3 “over” style focused on linemen being aggressive instead of reacting. Something coach Schiano tried to do during his time at Rutgers. This results in linebackers needing to be the second line of defense while the front four focus on pressure. We know Mason Foster has the tools, but with Quincy Black having a sub-par 2011, the need to compliment Foster becomes even more necessary. It could still come via the free agency market in Tulloch, Lofton, or possibly the draft.
Both Davis and Schiano have also been known to switch their looks up frequently. As described by Bucs reserve defensive end George Johnson in an interview with Pewter Report, “the one good thing about him (Schiano) is that he switches up his defense so much that you can’t tell what he’s going to line up”. Johnson played under Schiano from 2006-2009, so he knows Schiano’s philosophy. Schiano and Davis have also used ends to drop into coverage, something Bill Sheridan implemented during his time with the New York Giants. This fits well with the current Bucs personnel since Adrian Clayborne, Da’quan Bowers and Michael Bennett all possess the athleticism needed to fit these schemes. Aside from being able to bull rush in a one-gap system, each can cover a zone if needed.
The use of the short safety and defensive ends means the burden ultimately falls on the corner backs and their ability to at times play cover zero. Eric Wright has the ability to play man but he cannot do it alone. Even if Ronde Barber returns, he has become more of a Nickel back and Aqib Talib could potentially never play another down. These factors put even more emphasis on selecting Morris Claiborne with the fifth pick. If Schiano wants the ability to use the safety and front seven with abandonment, he needs to have corners he can rely on. This defensive philosophy does not work if the corners are getting burned on early downs. Sticky coverage is a must and perhaps the most important aspect.
When Schiano says he wants the defense to be aggressive, believe him. The question is if he has the players to fit the philosophy? Overall, the answer is yes, but adding a corner and linebacker could be the key. Otherwise, it could become another “bend but don’t break” defense we have been used to seeing in Tampa. The bright side is the Buccaneers finally have an offense to compensate.
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