Buccaneers head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has made the defense's job in 2010 very easy to understand. For the defense Morris has laid out a few simple words for the players to focus on for next season. After the first round of OTAs (organized team activities), Morris explained the identity the defense is working on establishing for the 2010 season.
"When talking about establishing things, I'll give you some of the core examples like practice habits, but the attitude is score and get the ball back," said Morris. "When we were really good on defense. Many thought our idea was to lead the league in yardage. That's how you become the number one defense. A lot of people thought we were trying to stuff the run and hold them. I didn't care about those stats. We were trying to score or get the ball back for our offense. That's what is going to determine when you're good. Back in 2002 I think we led the league in turnovers, and I think we broke a record. I'm not sure. I know we did on touchdowns. We scored six times on defense, and four more in the playoffs. They called one back by Ronde Barber in the San Francisco game. Those are the things we are trying to establish those core beliefs.
"You ask anybody on the defense what their job is, they probably won't know what you're talking about. But if I ask them they'll say ‘score, get the ball back.' Whenever they get that question that should be the standard response."
The player that will be leading the Bucs to get in position to ‘score, get the ball back' is Mike (middle) linebacker Barrett Ruud. The Buccaneers captain almost broke the franchise's record for tackles in a season. Last year Ruud had 205 tackles, two tackles for a loss, eight passes broken up, one forced fumble, and one interception. Ruud's tackle total was second only to Hardy Nickerson's 214 tackles in 1993. Despite the production there was criticism of Ruud as the Bucs finished last in the NFL in run defense.
"Barrett and everybody else on defense struggled early on," said Morris. "There's no secret there. We all had our issues. Then you go back and look at the stats and see that he led the team in tackles. He led the team as being a leader and re-establishing when we took over in the last six, and he played at a high level."
Tampa Bay played the first 10 games of the season under defensive coordinator Jim Bates. The Bucs defense never was able to excel in Bates' system. After struggling to defend the run and prevent big plays through the air, Morris took over as defensive coordinator for the final six contests of the season. In the last six games of 2009 the defense played much better, and held opponents to an average of close to 17 points per game.
"We're excited about it because we're building on what we did the last six weeks," said Ruud. "In all honesty we put in all that stuff on the fly last year. We did a good job with that in not really knowing what we were going to do. That's what OTAs are for, is to detail your assignments. I think all of us are really excited about what Raheem is doing with the defense."
Another reason for the optimism about the Bucs defense stems from the acquisitions that the team made last month. In the 2010 NFL Draft the Buccaneers used their first two picks on defensive tackles. Oklahoma product Gerald McCoy was selected with the third-overall pick and UCLA standout Brian Price was taken with their first pick in the second round. Those two will pair up with second-year pro Roy Miller to form the rotation at defensive tackle. Morris believes that Ruud will help the young defensive tackles early on, and the young tackles will make things easier for Ruud.
"We talked about it on draft day. It starts up front. It establishes a push. It establishes where you want to be. What side of the line of scrimmage you want to play on," said Morris. "They are definitely going to benefit from Barrett Ruud. He was if not the first call, the second call after both selections. You call him and let him know what we are going to get done. He's all in. I don't know if he took flak, but he shouldn't have because he's the general. He is one of those guys that you need to play with and you want to play with. He's the general, and I can't say enough good things about him. I can't say how fired up he is to have those guys in front of him. We'll continue to get better and better for him, and play around him."
Ruud, 27, is playing on a one-year contract, and is slated to be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. While not having a long-term commitment from the Buccaneers organization Ruud (6-2, 241) is still coming to One Buc Place and attending all of the team's voluntary workouts.
"I think that Barrett is a professional," said Morris. "The things he's been able to do is eliminate his personal matters whatever they may have been. I tell the guys all the time what Monte Kiffin used to say to us, I don't care what's going on in your life. When you come in this building you absolutely embrace it and do football. Once you leave out of here you go right back to that personal life. It'll be waiting for you. I promise you. Once you get here in this building, or at your desk, whatever point it is where you turn it off and hit click. Barrett takes it home with him because that is the type of player he is, and he has the ability to do that. That's him. That's the character. That's the guys we want. That's the hunger and commitment you look for. It is more about the team than his individual contract. It is about the guys he's playing with. Its' about Ronde Barber. Its' about Quincy Black. It's the people you play next to and in front of, and it means a lot to him."
RUUD TALKS PENN
A year ago Ruud held out of the Bucs OTAs because he was unhappy with his contract. This year Ruud has decided to attend them. Bucs left tackle Donald Penn has decided to go the route that Ruud took a year ago, and skip all the voluntary practices because of his contract status. Ruud said he hasn't spoken with Penn about the decision.
"Yeah it is definitely your own call," Ruud said. "I think Donald has proven he's a very good left tackle. I hope things go well for him. Whatever route he takes I'm sure he's thought long and hard about it. He's got to do what he's got to, but he's definitely a good player.
"I think as long as you keep playing well, things are going to work out for you. Donald has showed that since he started he's been very good. As long as he keeps with that he'll be fine."
Penn has expressed that he would like to sign a long-term contract with the Buccaneers, and Ruud was asked if he feels the same way, "Yeah definitely, I like it down here."
JONES LEARNING THE BUCS LANGUAGE
Morris was asked about how safety Sean Jones is coming along. Jones was one of the few free agents that Tampa Bay signed this offseason.
"He is one of the new toys, him and Reggie [Brown]. They've showed up and they've made an impact," Morris said. "You see why Sean was one of those guys that led this league in interceptions, or was in the top four or five guys in picks the last couple of years because of his ball awareness, ball skills, and his eye control. He does so many of those things well. Now you're getting him into your system and he's picking it up. He has his rosetta stone out right now translating our language. As soon as he finishes the process of his rosetta stone he might be a pretty good player."
MORRIS AWARDS SCHOLARSHIPS
Morris presented 10 local students with scholarships totaling $10,000 at the Bucs OTA on Wednesday. The students receive need-based funding for college, and submitted essays and applications explaining the need for the scholarship. The scholarship winners are:
Hilario Cabrera, Leto High School
Alyssa Carson, Alonso High School
Raidel Martinez, Jefferson High School
Amber Mirajkar, King High School
Brett Palaschak, Spoto High School
Fernanda Pierre, Hillsborough High School
Brandon Proctor, Gaither High School
Melissa Ramirez, Middleton High School
Cesar Rodriguez, Lennard High School
Deena Wang, Robinson High School
"Since I became the head coach I've tried to focus on something and that is education," said Morris. "We want to focus on education. It helped me get to where I wanted to get to. It is not about being a Rhodes scholar or the smartest guy on the block, it is about letting kids know the importance of education and getting through so they can become successful."