The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off one of their worst defensive seasons in franchise history. But a change in scheme worked in Tampa Bay's favor when head coach Raheem Morris took over as defensive coordinator and implemented a hybrid Tampa 2 defense starting against the Falcons in week 12. After finishing the 2009 season with a stronger defensive identity and finding success in his new scheme, Morris seems ready to enter next season with the linebackers currently on the roster.
The Bucs bolstered their depth at the linebacker position when they re-signed Angelo Crowell on Monday. Crowell missed all of last season due to a torn bicep. Crowell, 28, should compete for playing time with linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black.
Hayes, Black, and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud all improved towards the end of last season when the Bucs got back to their Cover 2 roots after Morris took over the play calling on defense. Ruud finished last season with 205 tackles and Black finished with 93. Hayes tallied 14 tackles for a loss in 2009 to go along with his 136 tackles on the season. Hayes, 22, also showed his playmaking ability after recording three sacks and picking off two passes.
The Buccaneers aren't in a good position to draft a linebacker in the first round of the NFL draft, unless they trade down from the third-overall pick, and Morris seems to be happy with the group that is on the roster. Morris tells the Lakeland Ledger's Rick Brown that he is ready to go into 2010 with the current linebackers on this team.
Last year, the Bucs knew what they had with Barrett Ruud but had planned on Angelo Crowell to take the strong side and a battle between Geno Hayes and perhaps Quincy Black for the final spot. But Crowell got hurt in preseason and never played a down in the regular season, leaving Ruud with the second-year Hayes and third-year Black.
These are Morris' thoughts on the trio entering this season:
"It's never a set deal but there's a certain comfort level with those guys because those guys have played well, especially in those last games when we were able to finish strong and win a couple of games," Morris said. "Geno Hayes, I believe, led the team in tackles for loss (14). Quincy Black became a real factor on the edge and some of those things we asked him to do - off the edge rushing and some of those things in that stacked position. All the things we asked him to do along with Barrett in the middle, also a young guy controlling our defense and really doing some great things from that perspective."
Source: Lakeland Ledger - Rick Brown
PewterReport.com's Take: The Bucs linebacking corp needs to step up and play at a high level if the team is going to compete next season. After Morris took over as the defensive coordinator, the defense finally appeared to have an identity. Linebackers Geno Hayes, Barrett Ruud, and Quincy Black all improved under Morris' scheme. The team also re-signed Angelo Crowell, who should provide depth and competition to the current stable of linebackers. Tampa Bay added even more depth to the position in free agency when they signed Jon Alston from the Raiders and the team may also to look to the draft to add more competition. With a full offseason to continue learning a scheme that the linebackers are in favor of, along with 11 picks in the 2010 draft, the Bucs LB corp should improve next season. - Eric Dellaratta