Jay Hayes. Paul Spicer. Mark Duffner. John Hoke. Brett Maxie. Even Dave Borgonzi.

Names Bucs fans have heard in passing, but most likely couldn’t pick more than one of them out in a police lineup.

While the Bucs defensive players hear the roar of the adoring fans at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, and rightfully so, Tampa Bay’s assistant defensive coaches – and coordinatorMike Smith – deserve just as much credit for the recent turnaround as the 11 players on the field.

Bucs defensive tackle Akeem Spence says those guys don’t get enough love from the fans and media. 

“These coaches have done a tremendous job since OTAs just getting us better,” Spence said. “There is a lot of stuff to learn. When I was learning the playbook, I was like, ‘Dang, how am I going to learn this whole playbook?’ Because there is a lot of stuff, language, terminology, but you know they did a great job of breaking it down in OTAs and in training camp. 

“And you know we tried to get in down the best we could in training camp, but there were things that still needed to be communicated and talked about so guy could get a better understanding of what coach wanted. That is what was talked about after that Thursday night game. It was obvious we weren’t on the same page.”

Assistant DL coach Paul Spicer – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Assistant DL coach Paul Spicer – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

As Roy Cummings noted, heading into last week’s game against the Chargers, the Bucs were plus-13 in turnover differential in their prior seven games, best in the league during that stretch.

Spence said it wasn’t an easy road, but the coaches keep working with the guys, including getting their input.

“Coach Smith’s coaching staff did a good job in breaking it down,” Spence said. “Not making it too much, too overwhelming, breaking it down by pieces, packages. Just doing that, and just us as a d-line, as a defense, talking, communicating, now we’re making it work. It took time man, it took time, and with anything it just takes time. Now we’re getting the results we want, we’re just playing ball man.

“He asks for input, but at the same time, he knows what works and us, as professionals, try to execute it to the best of our ability. At the same time, he does ask for our input because he asks guys, what do you think would work here. Ask us up front, what type’s of games we like. Sometimes he tries to implement them. Giving us freedom on third down if he can. He’s a players coach, it’s a lot of checks and balances. He’s willing to budge you know, unlike some coaches who, it’s their way or the highway.”

PewterReport.com asked Smith about the credit that he and his staff deserve. Not surprisingly, Smith gave all the credit to his assistants and the played themselves. 

“Oh I think we have a fantastic staff and these guys have spent many, many hours working to get this thing going the way it’s supposed to be going,” Smith said. “[Defensive Line coaches] Jay [Hayes] and Paul [Spicer] do a great job up front, [Linebackers] Coach Duffner, Mark does a good job with the linebacker and [Secondary coaches] Jon [Hoke] and Brett [Maxie], they do a super job with the back end. It’s a collaboration, when you’re putting it together and it’s your first year and the first time a lot of us working together, there’s going to be a lot of ‘what ifs’ and we’ve been working through those. Not only as a staff, but with our players. But the players have really done a really good job here over the last four or five weeks.”

Head coach Dirk Koetter also praised the defensive staff as well for helping getting the Bucs back on track.

“Well when things go well, everybody gets credit, everybody deserves credit,” Koetter said. “Aand sometimes it’s people that we don’t talk about, like the assistant coaches. Just the way everything is structured, I talk to you guys every day, the coordinators talk once a week, but Jay Hayes and Paul Spicer working with our D-line, Mark Duffner with our linebackers, Jon Hoke and Brett Maxie working with our secondary. Those guys, nobody knows all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes on what they’re doing – meeting with guys individually, our regular preparation, all the staff time they put in, the breakdown time to get guys ready. I think we’ve done – on both sides of the ball and in special teams – I think we’ve done a good job of continuing to develop players and that’s how we believe you have to do it in this league because injuries are going to be there, year-in and year-out. You just don’t know when and where they’re going to come, so you better develop your guys.

LB coach Mark Duffner – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

LB coach Mark Duffner – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“And even guys that are here for a short time in training camp or in OTAs, look how many guys we’ve brought back because of the time invested in them and what we think about them. That’s all in our memory bank and then [General Manager] Jason [Licht] of course has final control over that, but we like to bring guys back that we’ve worked with before and we know how they are. The players do deserve the majority of the credit, but I think the coaches have done a really good job in that area as well.”

Following the tough Thursday night loss to the Falcons last month, the Bucs were 3-5 and at a crossroads in their season. Spence said the Bucs coaching staff stressed better communication, and not just on the field.

“Yeah (also) during the week, in the meeting rooms,” Spence said. “Just us upfront, talking about what we have, linebackers, then we take it out to the walk-through. Kwon, giving us the calls and then every guy just doing their job. So when we go back to those extra meetings, we have every guy calling out what gap they got, what run fit they got, what coverage they got. You’re like, “okay”, next play.”

Backup safety and now starter due to an injury, Keith Tandy agreed with Spence’s assessment of the communication being key in the turnaround.

“It’s been huge – first off because of how they make us communicate,” Tandy said. “We’ve got a lot going on in this defense, so you definitely have to communicate. Then they have a way in making you feel more confident in your own abilities. Because it feels like we’re doing the same drills and then you show up game day and then you’re like: “oh shoot that’s why we’re doing this.’ They’re real good at making the drills we do in practice translate into the game.”

Tandy explained how things are different since the loss to the Falcons.  

“Well, Coach Smith will be up there during a play (in meetings) and he won’t hear anything, so he’ll rewind it, no one said anything,” Tandy said. “He’ll rewind it again and are like, ‘well your supposed to be talking’. Now guys are talking more, and it puts pressure on you. Now you have got to study more, and it’s embarrassing when you do the wrong thing in front of the team, or you don’t know. It keeps guys more accountable.”

While ultimately most fans and media members will end of praising the players if they Bucs manage to make the playoffs, without a quality staff of assistants, a serious playoff run doesn’t happen. 

Jay Hayes. Paul Spicer. Mark Duffner. John Hoke. Brett Maxie. Even Dave Borgonzi.

Names most fans wouldn’t recognize if they were standing beside them in the line at Starbucks, but names that deserve a big part of the credit for the Bucs midseason turn around defensively. 

 

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About the Author: Mark Cook

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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MudManVA
MudManVA
5 years ago

Yep, and there was a question 5 weeks ago about whether Smith should be fired. I heard Jaws on PTI last night talking about why the BUCS are winning, and he said they are back to playing “BUC Ball”, winning Defense and effective offense. The defense is no doubt playing night & day from 5 weeks ago, and Smith & co. deserve a lot of credit. This, however, is a different kind of BUC Ball cause we have never really had an offense like this other than the 1 year they won the super bowl, and that offense wasn’t good… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  MudManVA
5 years ago

Frankly, it was only the idiots who even thought let alone talked of firing Coach Smith. Those idiots deserve to be fired from Bucdom.

chetthevette
chetthevette
5 years ago

I hope our assistant coaches stay anonymous to the other teams in the league. During Dungy’s hay day teams cherry pick our assistants to death.
Herm Edwards
Mike Tomlinson
Rod Marinelli
And I guess Lovie Smith
Rich Bisiia. Spelled that name wrong.

Horse
Horse
5 years ago

I’m more incline to lean towards it is a pass rush which is the major change. Having healthy pass rushers and McCoy is another plus. Yes Naplesfan I’m one of those idiots. We all make mistakes. It’s easy to criticize.

XpfcWintergreen
XpfcWintergreen
5 years ago

Culture Change? Here is another way to look at all of this. The first step in culture change had to come down from the Glazers. How many years has it been since Malcolm had to drop out of the picture? He was the original change agent whose takeover eventually led to a Super Bowl championship. The three sons had to learn to work together over the last several years. They oversaw more than one regime change. Licht and Koetter then had to do their parts to get there respective staffs working well. When this season began there were many, many… Read more »

XpfcWintergreen
XpfcWintergreen
Reply to  XpfcWintergreen
5 years ago

;-]

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

It’s great that the defense is getting all these accolades and superlatives thrown at them but this week will be their biggest test. Drew Brees has been known to carve this team up in the past and he always has a host of receivers to help him in his pursuit. The one thing that bothers Brees above anything else is pressure and the ability to move him off the spot and platform he likes to throw from. The front line will have to bring their A game throughout the day and make sure they put Brees in third and long… Read more »

Ron Gibson
Ron Gibson
Reply to  drdneast
5 years ago

He is short too and pressure up the middle blocks his field of vision. If you can rattle brezy just a little he will eventually be throwing them up for grabs.

seat26
seat26
5 years ago

I think this was an easy one to be wrong about. The Defense looked horrible up until just recently. We have a pass rush now, and suddenly with that in mind, we have a secondary that looks pretty good. No pass rush, and the secondary is going to get burnt over and over.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  seat26
5 years ago

Actually, it was dumb to be wrong in demanding the firing of Smith early in the season, for anyone who actually understands NFL football and how defenses are coached and built. And who knows that a new team is not built in a single game, or handful of games. It takes time, repetition, learning, and experience gained. You don’t completely replace your head coach AND your defensive coaching staff, AND completely change out your defensive scheme and play-calling, AND introduce four key starters on defense (two FAs and two rookie draftees), and then expect immediate results on the field. It… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

It’s also very easy to see what I’m talking about when you contrast the offense this year to the defense. The offense basically stayed the same as last season, same offensive coach who just happened to become the head coach, keeping the offensive schemes and play-calling intact, and allowing our rookie high-performing quarterback to continue his transition into his “sophomore” year, with a few bumps and detours here and there, and the running back corps getting banged up … otherwise, this season was just a continuation of last season. We’ve seen the offense get better, but it still has a… Read more »

Ron Gibson
Ron Gibson
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

True and M. Smith’s defense is much more complex than the simple zone we were failing with under lovie. Also a huge factor is Ayers. He doesn’t look all that flashy on the field but he really holds his own playing the run outstanding and still getting outside pressure which frees up the faster rushers like McCoy and Spence. In preseason and the first game we had plenty of pressure but when the injuries started there were too many along the DL. Now we are mostly healthy there and it shows.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Ron Gibson
5 years ago

Yup … and ditto for Clinton MacDonald … nobody pays him much notice because he is such a quiet guy, but it is not a coincidence or accident that the defensive line play suddenly improved after he returned to the lineup after spending several weeks on the sideline due to injury. When you have Clinton MacDonald in the lineup, doubling McCcoy suddenly leaves the center of the line exposed. When both are in the lineup, the entire line plays better.