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November 11, 2009 @ 11:35 am
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Bates Faces Challenge In Return To Miami

Written by Jim
Flynn
Jim Flynn

Jim
Flynn

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Jim Bates will return to Miami Sunday for the first time since he last served as the Dolphins' defensive coordinator in 2004. While he's looking forward to returning to Miami, Bates is more focused on formulating a game plan that will help the Bucs stop the Dolphins' Wildcat attack.
His impressive résumé' was one of the main reasons why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Jim Bates as their new defensive coordinator in January.

Bates, 63, has coached in the NFL since 1991, but he might be best known for what he helped the Miami Dolphins accomplish from 2000-04 while serving as the team's defensive coordinator.

During his five-year tenure with Miami, Bates' defenses ranked in the top 10 each year, including fifth and third in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

The seasoned coach's defense was led by defensive end Jason Taylor and linebacker Zach Thomas, among other talented players. But Bates' system helped the Dolphins players succeed, evidenced by the 212 sacks and 103 interceptions Miami notched during Bates' tenure with the Dolphins.

Although the Bucs and Dolphins met in preseason, Sunday will mark the first time Bates returns to Miami to face his former team since his successful campaign ended at the end of the 2004 when he served as Miami's defensive coordinator and interim head coach.

"Miami was a real good time for my family and I," said Bates. "We really enjoyed our time there."

Much has changed in the five years that have passed since Bates was in Miami. The 3-5 Dolphins are on their third head coach and endured a 1-15 season in 2007. Taylor, who left the Dolphins for one season in 2008 before re-signing with Miami to play linebacker in its 3-4 defense, is one of the few players that remain from Bates' time in Miami.

"It's really amazing when you look at how much has changed on NFL rosters from year to year," said Bates, who faced his former team, the Green Bay Packers, last week. "Only 13 players that I was with in Green Bay are still with the squad now. Jason Taylor, [strong safety] Yeremiah Bell and [tackle] Vernon Carey are the only players that were there when I was in Miami in 2004. That's only three players."

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to take place in Miami has been the evolution of its offense, which sparked a trend in the National Football League due to its success.

While he looks forward to returning to Miami, Bates is focused on formulating a game plan that will help the Bucs shut down the offense most call the "Wildcat."

Miami's version of the Wildcat isn't the team's entire offensive package. It's actually a small part of it, but produces big plays. It sometimes calls for the starting quarterback Chad Henne to leave the field, which allows one of the team's two running backs, Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams, to take the snap from center and run or throw the football.

It's no gimmick. The Dolphins plan to run the Wildcat for the long haul, evidenced by the fact that the team invested its second-round pick in April in QB Pat White, who was an accomplished passer at West Virginia, but even more successful as a runner.

Brown has thrown a touchdown pass this season, but the Wildcat formation has been most successful on the ground, where Miami currently ranks fourth in the NFL, averaging 151 yards per game.

That's not good news for Bates' defense in Tampa Bay, which ranks 30th against the run, allowing 163 yards rushing per contest.

"You look at the ability level of the those backs, it presents a scheme challenge," said Bates. "Everyone that's faced it this year has had some problems. They've been consistent running it and have been very consistent in doing so.

"You have to prepare for it. You don't see it week-to-week. We saw it [against Philadelphia] a bit, but this team can run it 18-22 times. We have to have total preparation for what they do. But you can't just say, ‘This is what they are.' There's a lot of other things they're doing well and we have to be prepared for all of it."

Brown is Miami's primary ball carrier. He has rushed for 566 yards (4.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Williams has produced 456 yards along with six touchdowns on the ground.

The Bucs believe the Dolphins' ground game, which features two former first-round draft picks, might be the most dangerous running game it faces all year.

"Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are runners as good as any I've seen," said Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli. "I think Ronnie Brown likes to have the ball in his hands at the snap. He does a good job of coordinating that whole offense out of the Wildcat."

In addition to Miami's running backs, the Dolphins' offensive line features two former first-round picks, including left tackle Jake Long, who was the first overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. The Bucs know they must win the battle in the trenches in order to stop Brown and Williams.

"It can create a lot of problems," Bucs defensive tackle Ryan Sims said of the Wildcat. "They do a lot of different blocking schemes. It's a power-blocking scheme, not just the Wildcat. It's not like they're just trying to be fancy and trick you, it's really power football.

"They run it a lot and have the backs to do it. They're very physical up front, and I think they run it more than any other team, which is why they're so successful at it."

So what does Tampa Bay's struggling run defense have to stop the Dolphins' Wildcat attack and make Bates' return to Miami a successful one?

"We have to play gap-sound football," said Sims. "If we can do that and get them in third-and-long we can be successful. At the end of the day we have to shed blocks and tackle. It's still football. We know what they can do. They're not going to try to trick you. All we have to do is be gap-sound and make the tackles. If we make the tackles we'll be fine."

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