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New Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates is settling in at One Buccaneer Place. He's had the opportunity to speak with some of his players and will talk to the media for the first time on Wednesday afternoon.
But you don't have to wait until Wednesday to get a good idea of what type of defensive scheme Bates will be running in Tampa Bay. Some have wondered if Bates was brought in to oversee the defense while new head coach Raheem Morris actually calls the plays defensively, or if Bates is going to employ his own 4-3 defensive scheme.
Based on conversations Pewter Report has had with players, coaches and front office members, the answer is the latter, although Bates is expected to work in some of the "Tampa 2" concepts that worked so well under Monte Kiffin from 1996-2008.
"It will be Jim's system," said Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. "With [linebackers coach] Joe Barry back, some of the concepts will stay the same. We've been successful for 12 years, so I don't think we're going to throw out the entire defense, but it will be Jim's system. That's something Raheem wanted. You can't bring a coordinator in and expect him to run something totally different. There will be some compromise, though."
Ruud, 25, wasn't sure what to expect from Bates, but after doing some homework and talking to him he likes what he has learned about his new defensive coordinator, who was extremely successful in Miami from 2000-04.
"I got to talk to him for a little. I liked him," Ruud said of Bates. "I had definitely heard the name before. I knew he was at Miami. I researched him a bit. I got excited. I saw how much success Zach Thomas had with him. His defenses were always good and in the top 10."
Ruud is right. The Dolphins' defenses ranked sixth, fifth, third, 10th and eighth during Bates' five-year tenure in Miami. Tampa Bay's 2005 second-round draft pick also has good reason to be excited about the success Thomas had in Miami.
Bates' system typically uses size in the middle to help speedy, pass-rushing defensive ends get after the quarterback while using smaller, quicker linebackers to blitz and defend near the line of scrimmage and the short-to-intermediate part of the field. We will see how much of that system changes and how much stays the same in the coming months, depending on how much Bates and Morris compromise.
Despite leading Tampa Bay's defense in tackles (178), which was 77 more than 11-time Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks, Ruud was passed over for the Pro Bowl in favor of San Francisco's Patrick Willis and Carolina's Jon Beason.
Needless to say, the fact that Thomas made four of his seven Pro Bowls under Bates caught Ruud's attention. What also stood out to Ruud was Thomas' sack totals. Thomas registered eight sacks during Bates' tenure in Miami. Ironically, that's how many Ruud recorded in his four seasons as Nebraska. The Cornhusker's all-time leading tackler also added 29 quarterback pressures.
While Kiffin was not in favor of blitzing, he and his staff toyed with the idea of implementing more blitzes last year due to the lack of pressure the team's front four generated during the 2007 season. Ruud and several other Bucs players studied film of Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison, who has notched over 30 career sacks.
Bates' defenses have been known to get after the quarterback, evidenced by the 212 sacks Miami registered in five seasons.
No matter who the coordinator is, the Bucs would prefer to get to the quarterback with their front four, but Ruud, who recorded his first three sacks in the NFL in 2008, said he is ready to blitz if he's asked to do it in Bates' defense.
"We didn't get into too many specifics, but I heard Coach Bates is a little more aggressive than Monte," said Ruud. "I think we will blitz more, and I certainly don't mind if I'm the one blitzing."
Much of Ruud's successes or failures weigh heavily on the play of the defensive tackles in front of him. Last year, both starting DTs, Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan, were injured down the stretch, which contributed mightily to Tampa Bay's defensive collapse.
Not only did the they surrender 756 yards rushing over the last four games of the season, the Bucs registered just 29 sacks during the 2008 season, with only 23 coming from the defensive line.
That's one of the reasons why the team is believed to be interested in signing Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl DT Albert Haynesworth, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on February 27. Pewter Report has heard from multiple sources that the Bucs will make a serious run at the player who may be considered the most sought after free agent in 2009.
Haynesworth has 24 career tackles, but his 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame is exactly what Bates is looking for in his defensive tackles. While it is true that Bates requires the defensive tackles to free up the defensive ends to get after the quarterback, a player like Haynesworth can also help free up the defenders behind the front four.
Ruud has been quite productive with "undersized" defensive tackles (approximately 290-300 pounds) playing in front of him. Just imagine what he could do with Haynesworth taking on blockers. That's something Ruud has already thought about.
"Obviously everybody knows that Albert Haynesworth will be one of the free agents out there," said Ruud. "I've heard we're going to try to get him. That was one of the things that was really appealing to me about Jim Bates' system. He likes to bring in defensive tackles that can keep blockers off the linebackers. I wouldn't mind at all if we signed Albert Haynesworth."
The Bucs have approximately $46 million in salary cap room, but they'll have to use a significant portion of it to sign Haynesworth, who likely will become the NFL's highest-paid defensive player after free agency.
Tampa Bay is also interested in signing some of its players with one year remaining on their contracts to long-term deals. That includes Ruud, who is entering the final year of his contract.
The two sides have had dialogue about a long-term deal, but nothing appears to be imminent. If he does not receive a contract extension this year, and a new collective bargaining agreement is not executed by the NFLPA and the owners, Ruud will not become a UFA until the 2011 offseason. He is hoping his patience pays off.
"Sometimes those things get worked out in training camp or during the season," Ruud said of his contract. "I know we're interested in getting something done, but we have time. Sometimes patience is a good thing in these situations."
Quote Of The Week Ruud on former NFL head coach and current NFL Network analyst Jim Mora's suggestion to the league's new head coaches to be the players' coach, not their friend, and how that applies to Bucs head coach Raheem Morris.
"Raheem is a player's coach. He's easy to communicate with. He's a friend of mine. But people forget [Steelers head coach] Mike Tomlin is a player's coach, but he runs a tough camp and a tough ship. It doesn't mean it's easy. It just means you can talk after work about stuff unrelated to football. It's still his way or the highway. I don't think Raheem plans on being what we call in this business a camp cupcake. Raheem just needs to be Raheem. We're going to have to work for him."