Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Getty Images
It really all started with the addition of Chris Baker.
Baker, primarily a nose tackle and 5-techique player, is a good big-bodied interior defensive lineman, but wasn’t exactly the kind of fit for a 4-3 defense some people thought the Buccaneers would go after. But, in fact, he was a priority.
Following his signing, the team let Akeem Spence walk, a player much more suited to a 4-3, and re-signed Sealver Siligia, a nose tackle-like player. They also let Darly Smith, a 4-3 outside linebacker, leave the team with no replacement until the draft where the team opted to take a linebacker who could also rush the passer with bigger size in Kendell Beckwith.
Now there’s this.
In an interview with Greg Auman from the Tampa Bay Times, Buccaneers pass rusher, Noah Spence, said he’s trimmed down some of his size from the 251-pound playing weight he was last season to about 240-243 right now. That is contrary to the moves the team has been making during the offseason to get bigger in all areas of their front seven.
So, if the Buccaneers are getting bigger in the middle, but are allowing their prized pass rusher to lose a bit of weight and get faster, could defensive coordinator Mike Smith be hinting at playing a 3-4 on some occasions this season using Spence as his featured EDGE rusher in a stand-up, linebacker role instead of a hand-in-the-ground defensive end – much like a Von Miller or a Khalil Mack?
The answer to that is: not entirely. However, it seems with each interview we get, from either players or coaches, the idea of Spence taking on a more pressing and versatile role this season is in the minds of players, personnel and coaches, too, not just ours.
Take general manager Jason Licht for example.
“We have some very good players along that D-line and they are going to get better too”, Licht said. “They are going to be better than they were last year this year with development of some of the younger guys,” and then proceed to mention Noah Spence by name – the first and only name he named.
Then there was fellow defensive lineman, Robert Ayers.
“I think [Spence] is a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year – that’s my opinion,” Ayers said. “Whether he goes and does it is another thing, but that’s how I feel about him because I think he has tools that not many people come into this league with and he’s still learning. I’m excited for him. It’s going to be a big year.”
But, the quote that really made me believe that this team is going to show a lot more 3-4 looks than last year, including featuring Spence as an outside linebacker pass rusher, is this one from Smith when talking about defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.
“We feel like [Tu’ikolovatu] is not just a guy, just like [Chris] Baker, we don’t think that they’re guys that are only going to play on first and second-down even though they’re 300-plus pounds. I think Stevie could move out and play some five technique. We know that Baker can, he did it in Washington. Again, we’re trying to get into a situation where we have as much flexibility as we possibly can with the guys that are dressed out on defense.”
Defensive tackles playing 5-tech? Making the defense as flexible as possible (we sort of knew this already)? Spence losing weight to have speed on the edge or in space, potentially worrying about coverage more than run support?
Sure sounds a little 3-4-ish to me.
I don’t expect the team’s base 4-3 to go away any time soon, but it appears the Buccaneers are going into a more “Multiple Defense” playbook than we thought.
In the coming week, I’ll give you all the run down on just what 3-4 and 4-3 fronts really are. I’ll explain the differences they call for, and the players it takes to be effective in each front. That way we’ll see if we can go into the mind of Mike Smith and get ahead of the curve in predicting some break out stars for the 2017 season in his versatile defense.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve thought this ever since McCoy mentioned “the things we’re asking Noah to do this year” in his early press conference.
Trevor you are so bae.
Trevor, could it possibly be the Defense in the world of “hurry up offense” is just adjusting to this scheme?
Love the diagram you did to explain the receiving tree. Could you do a diagram that shows the gaps and how a 3 technique differs from a 5 technique?
I will do a big article that goes through the details of 3-4 and 4-3 fronts in layman’s terms!
Pretty much thought his all along when they drafted Spence.
They already had Jacques Smith and Howard Jones who were undersized DE’s on the roster known for their speed rush so it wasn’t really like they needed another.
But both Spence and Beckwith have been starters and more effective on the right side of the line although Spence did play some at the LDE position last year.
Whatever the case, when I saw he had trimmed down to the 240 range, it certainly doesn’t bode well for him in run support on the DL where 300 pound plus OL will certainly out weight him and have a good chance to maul him.
It could be the Bucs, with both Spence and McCoy both nearing 32 and 30, the Bucs are considering moving to a 3-4 defense in the coming years.
I see this as DC Mike Smith adjusting his play book to his personnel. Putting them in a position to succeed. I also see it as him adjusting his play book to the wave of offense that is appearing in the NFL that spreads the ball around. Isn’t it nice to have a DC that is forward thinking? Go Bucs!
Spence is a Tweener. This makes a lot of sense.
Didn’t McCoy slim down to the 265-285lb range last year to get faster? That puts him in prime shape to be used as a DE in either the 4-3 or 3-4. Spence & David at OLB with Alexander & Beckwith at ILB to rush the passer from any of those four spots.
I’m apparently the only one, but count me as one who doesn’t like the idea of pushing more towards a 3-4. I’d have preferred for the team to ask Noah to add 10 pounds than to lose 10, and for him to be able to hold his own against the run as a 4-3 DE on early downs while still obviously looking to rush the passer.
I hate the idea of a major schematic change to a 3-4, which many of our words and personnel moves this offseason seem to imply. A 3-4 limits the best players in this front seven – McCoy, LVD< and Kwon. It MIGHT open things up for Spence, but he could just as easily have been a force as a pass rusher as a traditional 4-3 DE. Anyone who's saying they can see McCoy flourishing as a 3-4 DE is crazy. He lacks the strong base and the great hand technique you generally expect from a 3-4 DE. HIs greatest tool, his quickness off the snap, is a whole lot less valuable as a 3-4 DE than it is as a 3 tech. His pass rushing prowess will be much less frequently seen in a 3-4.
Meanwhile, LVD and Kwon both excel as rangy LBs who can play sideline to sideline, not guys who can shed blocks from offensive linemen to make tough tackles inside. They win with speed and quickness, not those gritty physical tools you expect from beefy 3-4 ILBs. And neither of them is remotely strong enough technically as a pass rusher to play OLB in a 3-4 and be a threat to the opponent.
Ayers is a good strong side DE in a 4-3. He started his career misused in Denver in a 3-4, and he was never good there as a result. He needed a second chance in NY to rush from a 3 point stance to flourish. Baker could be useful in both schemes, but I LOVE the idea of him next to McCoy inside all game more than anything else.
Really, the best theoretical pieces we have for a 3-4 are arguably Beckwith and Stevie, and they're both obviously unproven rookies who could just as easily flop as excel in this league. Sure, a couple others (namely Gholston and Baker) at least project to be solid in a 3-4, but our pass rush looks a whole lot stronger as a whole out of a 4-3 to me, if for no other reason that we go from having one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL (McCoy) out of a 4-3 to marginalizing him and needing for basically all pressure that's going to come to consistently come off the edge or via a risky blitz.
If this is the plan, I think it's a bad one. Not my call, so I hope I'm wrong.
I don’t want to be an alarmist and I don’t want to throw cold water on a good idea. I haven’t said much lately because I’m in learning mode. But I’m not hearing anything I didn’t hear last year. I don’t think we’re going to a 3-4 and I haven’t heard DC Smith say that. Of course the proof will be in the pudding as they say. I don’t think there is a need to change the 4-3 based defense as there is a need to improve communication. I think he has said from day one that he want a flexible or hybrid defense that will remain 4-3 based. This is what he said last year and I think this is what he plans to do this year. I agree with your assessment of our personnel, but I don’t think that is going to be an issue. Like I said, I’m learning too, so we shall see!
Yes i agree. I think this is more of an option for the Defense to shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 without having to bring in players from the bench. In other words, compromise the hurry up scheme.
Not sure how this would compromise a team using a hurry up offense. If we’re in a 4-3 and they go no huddle, and we respond by pushing McCoy to DE, shifting Ayers or Gholston to the other side, and pushing the other DT (likely Baker) to the nose, and standing Spence up to rush as an OLB, I’m really not sure how that helps us defend anything more effectively than we would have out of our 4-3 base.
I hope you’re right. But then, I really don’t like slimming Spence down. Was the hope when we spent a 2nd round pick on him really for him to be almost strictly a 3rd down player only? I mean, that’s almost necessarily what you’re planning when you trim him down to 240 pounds. He struggled to defend the run last year 10 pounds heavier. At this size, he’s likely to get pancaked on just about every rushing snap for which he’s on the field.
I do see things that worry me a bit in our personnel moves. The drafting of Stevie, while I guess it could be for short yardage and goalline packages, feels to me like it could represent a desire to shift to more 3-4 looks. The same is true for Beckwith, who as far as I can tell really has no business ever defending the pass if we can help it. And using a multiple draft picks on someone we plan to strictly be an SLB seems unlikely. Pair those moves with Spence’s change and all the talk of how McCoy can play 5 tech, and I am worried.
Like I said, I hope you’re right. I wouldn’t mind flexibility in theory, I guess, although even then, to be honest, I struggle to come up with a game situation in which I think we’re better off out of a 3-4 than we would be out of a 4-3 base of some kind. If nothing else, we’re just a whole lot deeper and more diverse on the line than we are at LB.
We’ll see, though. I do remember last year when the talk was of us being very multiple, and then we saw (I think) exactly 0 snaps out of a 3-4 all season.
With the versatile defensive personnel on the roster I can see how the alignment could easily shift back and forth from 4-3 to 3-4 depending on the situation. It is my understanding that a 3-4, which was designed to stop the run, is also more difficult for the offense to protect the passer. Looking forward to Trevor’s article.
I’m in favor of any scheme that puts Newton, Ryan and especially Brees on their asses.
I’ll withhold judgement until that article. That’s fair. But as of now, I can’t come up with a single scenario in which I like our likely effectiveness better from the 3-4 than I do from the 4-3. No idea how we’ll set the edge with Spence at one OLB spot and McCoy maybe two gapping from a DE spot. Also no idea how we’ll expect to rush the passer with only Spence as a real threat off the edge and no interior pressure. To me, to run the 3-4 at a high level, you need a few specific pieces: (1) a giant NT who can hold down the middle against the run (we may have that in Stevie), (2) two OLB who can both rush the passer at a high level AND drop into coverage capably (we have none of those), and (3) big, physical DEs who can set the edge by themselves while maintaining integrity on runs off guard (we have maybe one of those in Gholston, but he’s it).
It also helps if you’ve got two great block shedders at ILB, which we now maybe have one of in Beckwith.
It’s actually arguably harder to stop the run out of a 3-4, because you either need all of your D linemen to cover 2 gaps (which is really difficult) or you need ILBs who can shed blocks from interior linemen at a high level. I’m just not sure we have either of those. Either way, when you defend the run using a 3-4, it’s necessarily a defense that requires more thinking than a 4-3 does. In a 4-3, every player is assigned one specific gap along the offensive line to plug and attack. In a 3-4, either your linemen or your ILBs (depending on whether you’re running a one or two gap scheme) have to read the direction of the play, the action of the linemen, or some other similar key to CHOOSE which gap to fill. You are essentially leaving two or three gaps open every play, which requires your players who are making those choices to do more reading and reacting, and less instantaneous action.
I think Spence will be playing some Sam LB in our 4-3 defense, so I dont think him learning LB means we are switching to a 3-4. We are just gonna utilize his versatility the way Atlanta used Vic Beasley
Hmm. That could actually be it. I think I’d be happier with that than I would be with a shift to more 3-4 looks. With Beasley, ATL basically copied the way Denver has used Von at different times for years. But to do that job, Spence will need to be able to defend and sometimes cover in space. It’s at least possible, though. If Spence could produce like a poor man’s Von Miller, I’d be thrilled.
Glad you finally got what I believe is the plan. I remember the early days when the Bucs used the 3-4 alignment. The idea is to deploy the more athletic LB’s, In those days it was more about stopping the run. Nowadays it has become an effective way to rush the passer.
NFL teams are somewhat forced to utilize what the colleges produce. It’s easy to see that the “DE’s” entering this past Draft, for the most part, more resemble Noah Spence than Will Gholston.
That’s a good thought. Thanks.
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