When Greg Schiano became the head coach of the Buccaneers in January, the former college coach hired several of his former assistants at Rutgers, but two of the most important hires – offensive and defensive coordinators – have ties to the team the Bucs will face Sunday, the New York Giants.
Bill Sheridan was the Giants linebackers coach from 2005-08 then replaced Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator in 2009. Although the Giants won a Super Bowl while Sheridan was the LB coach, the defense did not see much success while Sheridan was the DC. Under Spagnuolo in 2008, the Giants defense surrendered 294 total points, fifth best in the NFL. Under Sheridan a year later, New York gave up 427 points, and in five games the Giants surrendered 40 or more points. Sheridan was fired after the season and became the linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins for two years before spending last season as an assistant at Ohio State.
As Eli Manning’s quarterbacks coach, Mike Sullivan help guide the Giants signal caller to the best season of his career in 2011. On his way to his second Super Bowl victory, Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. As the Bucs offensive coordinator, the expectations are that Sullivan will develop Josh Freeman into not just a serviceable NFL quarterback, but one of the best in the league.
Before becoming Manning’s QB coach, Sullivan spent 2004-09 as New York’s wide receivers coach, and with two Super Bowl rings as a member of the Giants’ offensive staff, saying Sullivan is familiar with the Giants’ offense is an understatement.
Naturally, without any real knowledge of what the Bucs new offensive system would look like before the season started, speculation that Tampa Bay’s offense would mirror the Giants arose. Sullivan said last week that the Bucs offense will have traits of his former team, but the Buccaneers will also put their own imprint on the playbook.
“We certainly have some carryover, as you’d expect, but we have our own identity.” Sullivan said. “We have to feature what our players can do and focus on the resources that we have and there’s a resolve and an intent from our head coach to learn football, that’s something I’m very attuned with and very much a believer in as well and so ultimately, it’s just trying to put those guys in the right spots and to say it’s a carbon copy and exactly the same – it’s like the similarities in all offenses. I appreciate it’s a copycat league, but we’re going to put our own fingerprints on things.”
As the Bucs and Giants prepare for the matchup, many assume Sullivan and to a degree Sheridan give the Buccaneers an edge, something both head coaches refuted Wednesday. In a conference call with Tampa Bay media on Wednesday, Tom Coughlin said the biggest problem will be with communications.
“I think there will be some communication issues.” Coughlin said. “They (Sullivan and Sheridan) are both fine coaches and both of them have been here in this system. And we’ve had, we’re familiar with the terminology as we are familiar with pretty much the offensive terminology Tampa used. They’ll be some things that we’ll [have] to be aware of, and I’m sure they’ll have to do that same.”
Schiano was asked in his post-practice press conference how much Sullivan can help him this week.
“Well there are certain things he can help [with], but we are doing certain things they did too. So they know it (and) their whole staff knows it. They have been doing it for years, right? So there are a lot of offensive things. Like I said the other day, there will be some subplots here with guys knowing stuff. At the end of the day it is players. What can you convey to your players and what can they do.”
When asked specifically about Sullivan, Coughlin gave him a glowing review.
“Mike Sullivan is a good, young coach.” Coughlin said. “He was with this program for a long time and he was also with us in Jacksonville so I’ve had great familiarity with Mike and his family and I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. Like I said, both he and Bill (Sheridan) are outstanding coaches.”
Like Schiano and Coughlin, Manning feels Sullivan doesn’t give either team an edge. In the conference call Wednesday, Manning said Sullivan gives both teams a familiarity with each other but it is up to the players to execute the game plan.
“I guess [we have] the same challenge they have also.” Manning said. “We know their offense pretty well, he’s come in, and run the same office we are or similar. So, it’s – football is always a matter of going out there and executing. You know, they don’t know what we’re running at that time; guys got to go out there, see the style of defense, make the adjustments. It’s all going to come down to how they perform, how they execute and that’s the most important thing.”
As far as Sullivan being his former QB coach, Manning shared with the media what Sullivan did to help him the most.
“I think just you know, trying to make great decisions, trying to prepare very wisely.” Manning said. “Understand circumstances that might come up during a game, whether [it’s] a certain situation that comes up or a defense comes up and have a plan and have an idea and say ‘hey, if I see this look, this is what I’m going to and if they do something different then we’ll adjust.’”
Manning said that Freeman reached out to him after Sullivan was hired, and he was more than happy to share what he could about the Bucs’ new offensive coordinator with the fourth-year quarterback.
“He (Freeman) did reach out and we talked," Manning said. "I told him a little bit about coach Sullivan and what to expect. Obviously I think highly of coach Sullivan and we had a great relationship. We worked hard together, committed. Always had a good plan for each week and great preparations and great study I only had good things to say and I know he was looking forward to working with him.”
A two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the elite QBs in the league, Manning added his thoughts on Freeman.
"He (Freeman) seems like a hard worker, a guy who prepares, making calls.” Manning said. “I’ve seen him over the past couple of years, get everything lined up, changing protections, making all the throws, then moves around the pocket extends plays. It seems like he has all the skills, he obviously played well last week and got a win.”
Freeman looked solid against Carolina last week and did indeed help the Bucs get their first win since October 2011. It’s still too early to tell for sure the effect Sullivan has had on Freeman, but there are signs of life in Tampa Bay with the signal caller, and that may be the biggest effect Sullivan needed to have overall.
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