New special teams coach Dwayne Stukes is looking to bring the Bucs teams units to a new level with returner Micheal Spurlock, LB Adam Hayward and P Michael Koenen in the fold for 2011.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to continue the legacy of a recent legend inside the halls of One Buccaneer Place. That legendary figure is former special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. After coaching the Bucs special teams units starting in 2002, Bisaccia left Tampa Bay after the 2010 season to coach in San Diego. His long-time assistant Dwayne Stukes was promoted to special teams coordinator.
Heading into free agency and training camp there was a lot of uncertainty for who Stukes would have in place to lead his units, but after linebacker Adam Hayward, linebacker Quincy Black, wide receiver Micheal Spurlock, safety Corey Lynch and punter Michael Koenen were signed to contracts the Buccaneres have all the pieces in place to maintain their special teams units. Stukes is looking to continue on the strong special teams play that the Buccaneers have had the past few seasons.
“Yeah absolutely, I actually worked for Rich for six years,” said Stukes. “I was an assistant defensive backs coach for the last couple of years but I never left my true home in the special teams area. I learned a lot from Rich. The base and the foundation were already implanted. Now they are bringing guys back the Spurlocks, the Haywards, core special teams players that are still going to be an integral part of our team so we can go to the next level like we are trying to do.
“Rich always emphasized that we are going to start the game, and we usually end the game whether it is a field goal, kickoff return, onside kick, whatever it may be special teams is an integral part. That’s why he always used the term ‘wefense’ it is not offense or defense. It is a combination of guys coming together to build a unit and he always emphasized the little details to get better, and he always talked about our unit staying strong and being one of the best in the NFL. That’s what I took from him.”
Last season Spurlock had some dynamic returns for the Bucs on punts and kicks. He returned one kick for an 89-yard touchdown and averaged 25.7 yards per return. Yet he knows that he will see competition because that is the way the Buccaneers special teams operates.
“Especially for our room, we have a lot of guys that do returns so that just heightens the competition and also brings the best out of everybody,” said Spurlock. “When you see one guy have a good return, you really hone in on having a good return when it’s your turn. It just raises the level of competition and raises the bar a little bit and makes everyone better. That’s what we did last year and you saw what happened, so we’re just trying to keep raising the bar and never get comfortable.”
Decreasing Spurlock’s opportunities to return kicks is the NFL’s new rule that has kickoffs starting at the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line. Stukes has a rule for his returners on how to gauge when they should bring the ball out of the end zone.
“I’ve talked to those guys on several occasions so far and I’m really going to lead it up to their discretion,” said Stukes. “We all know that if it is five or more yards in the end zone we won’t be bringing it out. All of us will be fired. We know if they get a look and it hits the end zone or one yard deep in the end zone, and they feel good about it, I would love for them to bring it out. I don’t want them to play scared. That’s not the mentality that we have. That’s not the mentality I was raised on being coached by Rich, Raheem [Morris], and Mike Tomlin. If we get a good look in the end zone one or two yards deep we are going to bring it out. Once it hits that five-yard mark they better take a knee.”
Last season Hayward led Tampa Bay in special teams tackles with 20. After briefly testing free agency, Hayward re-signed a three-year deal with the Buccaneers. Re-signing Hayward caused Stukes to breath a sigh of relief.
“It was definitely a big relief. Him, Quincy, the Spurlocks, the Lynchs, all those guys helped us over the years,” said Stukes. “Having those guys back playing as a unit. They have grown together since I’ve been here, so I’m excited to see them back on the field.”
Adding to the Bucs special teams is the signing of Koenen away from the Bucs’ division rival Atlanta Falcons. Koenen has been a dependable punter, but also was effective on kickoffs. Stukes is expecting the Buccaneers to have a high amount of touchbacks with Koenen aboard.
“Anytime that you can get a guy that kickoffs and punts, you’re basically getting two for one,” said Koenen. “Anytime a guy is hitting touchbacks from the 30, just imagine when the ball goes to the 35. Hopefully we’ll see the same thing as in Atlanta when he’s kicking the ball out of the end zone and having touchbacks. We all know that field position is important in football. Now it is going to be emphasized on punt and punt return now that kickoff have been moved up to the 35. Basically we got two-for-one. He’s a good punter. He has a lot of punts inside the 20-yard line and we know what he does on kickoff.”
From the players perspective they are firmly behind Stukes in his rookie season as the special teams coordinator.
“He’s just picking up where Rich [Bisaccia] left off,” said Spurlock. “He’s been around Rich a long time. He’s not [necessarily] going to be the same coach, but he’ll find what was working from [Bisaccia] and take some from him, but you have to be your own coach and coach Stukes is doing a great job trying to teach us. A lot of guys that have been around here know how to work. He’s helping us out and we’re kind of helping him with the young guys because he has a lot of guys to try to teach pretty much four months of work in four days. We’re just trying to help him out. Also, [I am] just going out and leading by example and showing [the young players] how we work around here and that special teams is very important. If you don’t take special teams to heart out here we can’t use you. That’s how we look at it and we try to let everybody else just fall in line after that.”~ Andrew Scavelli contributed to this report
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