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Prior to the 2007 season, Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn predicted that the Bucs revamped coaching staff would lead to the team improving their record from 2006. In total, Tampa Bay had four new position coaches in a critical year for head coach Jon Gruden. Pewter Report's prediction came true when the Buccaneers went from last to first and improved their record by five games.
On defense, the Bucs had a new defensive line coach, linebacker's coach, and secondary coach in Larry Coyer, Gus Bradley, and Raheem Morris, respectively. With defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the new assistants helped the Buccaneers improve from the 17th ranked defense in 2006 to the second unit in 2007. The lone new offensive assistant was tight ends coach Bob Casullo.
Kiffin is the longest tenured defensive coordinator in the NFL, and signed a contract extension this offseason to coach Tampa Bay's defense for two more seasons. At the end of the contract, Kiffin will have completed his 27th NFL season. Eventually, the Bucs will have to replace the Hall-of-Fame coordinator.
Morris is often mentioned as a possible heir apparent to Kiffin. The challenge in that scenario coming to fruition is that Morris' contract with the Buccaneers is up at the end of the 2008 season. With the progress that Tampa Bay's defensive backs showed last year, it is likely that Morris will get interest for defensive coordinator positions with other teams. Former Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin was a defensive coordinator for one season in Minnesota before the Pittsburgh Steelers hired him to be their head coach.
Morris could be Tampa Bay's next protégé on the head-coaching fast track to follow in the footsteps of assistants Tomlin, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith, and Herman Edwards. Morris is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and this reporter would be shocked if Morris is not a head coach in the next decade. It could be tough for the Bucs to keep Morris around past the 2008 season since he is in the final year of his contract with the Bucs, and Kiffin is under contract for the next two seasons.
With that in mind, the Bucs will need to have other coaches worthy to replace Kiffin. Fortunately for the team they have a number of in-house candidates. In fact they have some very underrated coaches on their staff. Those two issues bring us to this Campbell's Cover 2 debate: who is the most underrated coach on the Bucs staff?
Cover 1- Bradley is the most underrated coach on the Bucs staff.
Bradley had a very impressive debut for the Buccaneers last season. The improved play of Tampa Bay's linebackers was critical in the Bucs making their big jump in the defensive rankings. What makes Bradley's season even more impressive, is when you consider the diverse challenges he was presented with.
When talking about the Bucs linebackers you always have to start the conversation with franchise great Derrick Brooks. In 2006, some felt that Brooks was starting to show his age. His tackle totals fell from 174 in 2005 to 150 in 2006. He also went from three sacks to no sacks, and did not force a fumble. At the age of 34, Brooks improved from '06 last season.
Brooks' tackle total went up to 162, despite the fact that fellow linebacker Cato June took some of the snaps that had always gone to Brooks in years past. Brooks also went from no forced fumbles to three forced fumbles. Many veterans resent having their role changed, but with Bradley, who served as a defensive quality control coach before being promoted to the linebackers coach, handling the substitutions, he was able to maximize the production of his veteran linebacker without alienating him.
Bradley also did a great job of incorporating June into the defense. In his years with the Indianapolis Colts, June was a weakside linebacker. Coming to Tampa where Brooks was at home at that spot, June had to transition to playing on the strongside. Bradley helped June do that, and the Bucs benefited from improved production from that spot. June recorded 120 tackles with an interception and a forced fumble. In '06, strongside linebacker Ryan Nece had 93 tackles, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles. June's ease of switching positions, transitioning to a new team, and being productive can be credited in part to Bradley's efforts.
The other starting linebacker that Bradley boosted in 2007 was middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. In his first season as the starter, Ruud led the team with 169 tackles. Ruud also contributed two interceptions, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and four passes defensed. Bradley got Ruud ready to play, and had him in position to make plays. A starting debut like that is a result of good coaching.
Bradley also had his backup linebackers to account for. The Bucs had two rookies in Adam Hayward and Quincy Black that were under Bradley's tutelage. Both players learned, and were good contributors on special teams. There has been a lot of positive talk about Black this offseason and the progress he has made. Bradley will have their development to account for along with rookie linebacker Geno Hayes.
The other two backup linebackers that Bradley got good contributions from were Nece and Jeremiah Trotter. Both veterans had to adjust to new roles of being backups from starters. Both were good teammates, and contributed to the team with their leadership. Like all competitors, nobody enjoys going from a starter to a backup. Bradley kept Nece and Trotter focused on what they could do to help the team in the leadership department.
Bradley had a lot of responsibility last season in managing the personalities, and possible egos of his veteran linebackers. He and Kiffin had to pull Brooks for June in many nickel situations, the Bucs had to deactivate Trotter for 13 games, and had to transition Nece to being a backup.
Schematically, Bradley also did a great job. He had to teach the Bucs system to four new linebackers, and he had to teach the 3-4 scheme to all of his linebackers. The 3-4 was hardly used in the regular season, not until Week 17 did the Bucs actually run the system for stretches in a game. That was done in part to give the Giants more film to study of a set the Buccaneers had no intention of using in the playoff contest.
This year, Tampa Bay has been experimenting with some other new wrinkles to incorporate into the playbook. In a recent Flynn's Focus, Pewter Report editor-in-chief Jim Flynn discussed how the Bucs have been adding more linebacker blitzes to the defense's playbook. With an effort to create more of a pass rush, the Buccaneers can use the speed and athleticism of their linebackers.
The players that have been incorporated on those blitzes have been Ruud and June. That indicates the Bucs have blitzing out of the nickel formation. In college Ruud had a lot of success as a blitzer, and June has good closing speed to make him an effective blitzer.
It is possible that the linebacker blitzes are going to wind up being an experiment like the 3-4, and not see much use during the regular season. The experimenting may seem useless to Bucs fans, but the different schemes and plays help the offense to prepare for the different defensive schemes that they will see during the course of the regular season.
Bradley also got a ringing endorsement from former Bucs linebacker coach Joe Barry. When Barry was having his exit interview with general manager Bruce Allen, Barry told Allen very definitively to hire Bradley to succeed him. (A brief aside, don't be surprised to see defensive line coach Todd Wash have a similar season in his debut as a position coach for Tampa Bay. In watching the defensive lineman in the mini-camp, he seems to be a great teacher of technique and a good motivator.)
With the possibility of losing Morris, the Buccaneers seem to have another in-house candidate to replace Kiffin in Bradley. If Bradley continues to keep the linebackers productive despite the eventual retirement of Brooks, he should get strong consideration for the coordinator spot down the road. In looking at the rebounding Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, one has to credit Bradley for a significant contribution in that effort. At this time, Bradley is the most underrated coach on the Bucs staff, but probably will not be for long.
Cover 2- Casullo is the most underrated coach on the Bucs staff.
Bradley is definitely one of the Bucs most underrated coaches. However, there is an offensive coach that had a great Buccaneer debut, is very versatile, and maybe more under the radar then Bradley. That would be tight ends coach Bob Casullo.
The tight ends as a unit improved greatly from '06 to '07. Alex Smith and Anthony Becht were a part of both units. In '06, Dave Moore was the third tight end, and in '07 Jerramy Stevens replaced Moore. Last year, the tight ends combined for 55 receptions for 594 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2006, the Bucs tight ends hauled in 54 receptions for 374 yards and four touchdowns. The tight ends also produced more touchdowns then the wide receivers (eight touchdowns).
Along with the increase in productivity, Casullo helped the tight ends improve their game. Smith was an active blocker and contributed to the Bucs 11th ranked rushing offense. It is fair to say that Smith had the best blocking year of his three-year career last season. In addition, to that, Smith had the highest total of receiving yards in his career with 385 yards.
Stevens was a valuable contributor for the Buccaneers as well. While his stat line was not overwhelming, 18 receptions for 189 yards and four touchdowns, he was the second on the team in touchdown catches. His four touchdowns came in the last month of the season to help Tampa Bay in its playoff push. Casullo also helped Stevens in holding onto the ball. Part of the criticism of Stevens in Seattle was dropped passes. For the Bucs, he was much more sure-handed. Stevens by all accounts was a good teammate in the locker room, and had no trouble off the field as a Buccaneer. Casullo definitely deserves some credit for Stevens' development over the last year.
Positional flexibility is important to Tampa Bay when crafting its 53-man roster. Well, Casullo adds coaching flexibility to the Bucs staff. Prior to coming to the Buccaneers, Casullo worked for some of the top coaches in football and did so in a variety of capacities.
In 2005-06, Casullo was the special teams coordinator for Mike Holmgren and the Seattle Seahawks. In those years he contributed to a Super Bowl team and a playoff team. That wasn't the first time Casullo was the coordinator of a Super Bowl unit. Against Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII, he was the Raiders special teams coach that helped to produce a blocked punt for a touchdown in that game.
A few years before the Raiders Super Bowl run, Gruden hired Casullo as his special teams coordinator for what wound up being Gruden's last two seasons in Oakland. After the coaching change in Oakland where Bill Callahan was fired, Casullo was a tight ends coach for the New York Jets in 2004 under head coach Herm Edwards. Casullo also was special teams and tight ends coach for Nick Saben at Michigan State University. In total, he has spent five seasons in the NFL as a special teams coordinator.
Casullo fielded some successful units as well. In 2003, Casullo's punt return unit ranked second in the AFC and third in the NFL in punt return average. In 2001, his unit was tops in the NFL for kickoff coverage, and in 2000 he led the NFL's best squad in net punting average.
Some Buc fans have wondered how coach Rich Bisaccia will be able to coach the running backs and the special teams. The answer is he will be able to lean on other assistants to help with special teams. Casullo's coaching flexibility will benefit the staff throughout the 2008 season.
With the ability to coach the Bucs tight ends and contribute to coaching the special teams, Casullo is the most underrated assistant on the Buccaneers staff.
Of all the Campbell's Cover 2's this is the hardest call to make. Considering the ability to coach different facets of the game well, the choice is Casullo. But in time Bradley will be a defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, or for somebody else. He also is young, and is definitely a head-coaching prospect in the next decade.
Considering the success of all the backup players on the team's way to the playoffs, it is obvious that the Bucs are a well-coached team. The bottom line is the Buccaneers have a lot of talent on the sideline, which paid off in 2007, and could be poised to do the same in 2008.
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