This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
If you were expecting Tampa Bay’s defense to radically change under the leadership of new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, prepare to be disappointed. But if the Bucs defense can sustain the high level of success they have had for years under the guidance of Monte Kiffin with Bates in charge, it’s doubtful that any Tampa Bay fan will in fact be disappointed.
Bates’ personality is rather low-key in person, but he admitted that he is a high-energy coach in the on-field coaching environment. Former Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was the same way. Quiet as a mouse off the field, but then loud as a drill sergeant on the field. Don’t expect Bates to be a drill sergeant, but he will likely be more outwardly enthusiastic and vocal than he was in the media gaggle on Wednesday at One Buccaneer Place.
The most significant change that Bates will bring to Tampa Bay is the bump-and-run coverage style played by the team’s cornerbacks. The Bucs played a lot of quarters coverage (four deep zone) last year and will still deploy some zone coverage as a change-up, but Bates will attempt to find two stud corners who can lock down wide receivers in man coverage like he had in Miami in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
There was a report on ProFootballWeekly.com that said cornerback Ronde Barber, despite making the Pro Bowl, may see some reduced playing time in 2009. Pewter Report is hearing that barring unforeseen circumstances, Aqib Talib, last year’s first-round pick, will be a starting cornerback in 2009. The Bucs have an interest in re-signing cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on February 27, and that may facilitate Barber’s move to nickel corner if Buchanon is re-signed to a sizable deal in free agency as the other starter opposite Talib.
However, Pewter Report has learned that the team is not prepared to pay top dollar to re-sign Buchanon and that could lead him to sign elsewhere if he wants the bigger paycheck.
While his play tailed off in Oakland in 2004, which prompted a trade to Houston for a disastrous stint with the Texans, Buchanon did excel in bump-and-run coverage with the Raiders in 2002 and 2003. In his rookie season in ’02, Buchanon made some rookie all-star teams by picking off two passes and returning one 81 yards for a touchdown despite landing on injured reserve on October 25. In 2003, Buchanon recorded a team-high six interceptions, returning two for scores. With good coaching, Buchanon has the attributes to once again perform well in bump-and-run coverage against smaller cornerbacks.
However, Barber’s strength is not bump-and-run coverage, and that is primarily what Tampa Bay’s corners will use next year. Of course, don’t count out the scrappy Barber, who will turn 34 in April. But Bates’ arrival means that he doesn’t have any allegiances to any current players, and that may in fact mean a reduced role for players like Barber and perhaps weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who will turn 36 in April.
The linebackers will likely be asked to do more blitzing and there will be some run-fit adjustments, but their roles on the team will largely remain the same. The same holds true for the safeties.
Along the defensive line, Bates clearly prefers bigger defensive tackles, but did not seem to have a problem playing undersized tackles as long as there is sufficient depth at the position to rotate. Kiffin preferred bigger defensive tackles too, as long as they had ideal quickness and talent for his scheme. In fact, most defensive coordinators prefer bigger defensive tackles, which is why Tennessee’s 6-foot-6, 320-pound Albert Haynesworth is expected to pursued by most NFL teams, including the Buccaneers, when he hits free agency on February 27.
It was interesting to note that in his meeting with the media today, Bates classified undersized defensive tackles as weighing 275-280 pounds. By virtue of Bates’ definition, 6-foot-2, 296-pound nose tackle Chris Hovan is not necessarily undersized. What this means is that the Bucs don’t need to blow up their whole depth chart at defensive line and start over, but if general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris can lure a Haynesworth to Tampa Bay in free agency, or director of college scouting Dennis Hickey can draft 6-foot-3, 336-pound Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace, all the better.
Tampa Bay’s defensive front will be more of a conventional 4-3 defense without the over and under formations Kiffin used. This more straight forward approach will still have the defensive tackles playing a one-gap scheme, but more from a head up position lined up over the guards rather than in a particular gap. Traditionally, the Bucs’ nose tackle was lined up in the “A” gap between the guard and center and sometimes even cocked to automatically try to draw the double team while the under tackle was playing the three technique in the “B” gap between the other guard and tackle.
On Wednesday, Bates did not disclose whether he would completely abandon the use of the three technique for the defensive tackle and the one technique for the nose tackle, but given the fact that the over and under fronts are going by the wayside by and large, and the defensive tackles will probably line up designated as left and right tackles playing a zero technique, which is head up on a lineman, it's safe to say the three and one technique may be used sparingly.
Next year could be a big one for defensive end Gaines Adams, who is entering his third NFL season. Bates listed several top defensive ends, including Jason Taylor, Aaron Kampman, Adwele Ogunleye and Trace Armstrong, whose sack totals went up dramatically due to his press man coverage philosophies that cause quarterbacks to hold on to the ball longer. There will be more on Adams in an upcoming SR’s Fab 5, in addition to new defensive line coach Richard Nunn’s approach to pass rushing.
We’ll learn more about Bates and what he wants to do with his defensive front seven as the offseason unfolds. The Bucs will be having their first mini-camp, which is an extra one supplied by the NFL for teams that have undergone a head coaching change, in late March/early April, and Pewter Report will have more time to analyze and evaluate the changes in Bates’ defensive scheme.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org