FAB 4. Duffner’s Relationship Skills Could Pay Off For Bucs D

I usually review the previous week’s Bucs game film in this spot, but with the change of defensive coordinators this week, I’ve devoted Fab 4 to give you some extra insight into Mark Duffner, the team’s linebackers coach and new play-caller on defense.

Communication always seemed like a problem when former Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s defense faltered, which was quite regular over the 37 games in which Smith presided over the unit. The Bucs were 16-21 with Smith running the show on defense, and allowed 400 yards of total yards or more in 20 of those 37 games.

Smith was fired on Monday after the Bucs’ 34-29 loss at Atlanta and replaced by Duffner, who will be charged with getting Tampa Bay out of the NFL cellar in terms of scoring defense (34.6 avg.) and passing defense (355.8 avg.). The Bucs rank 31st in the league in total defense (440 avg.).

Former Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Former Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Despite the communication issues, Smith always called plays from the press box and it seemed like there was a disconnect as a result. Sometimes coordinators thrive with a bird’s eye view of the field. That has been the case on the offensive side of the ball with Todd Monken, but the defense just wasn’t successful with Smith being upstairs.

“Sometimes the best seat in the house can be upstairs,” said Duffner, who will be calling plays from the sideline where he has been the last three years while coaching the linebackers. “Sometimes you feel like you are away from where the real action is up there because you are somewhat secluded. You have to look at what the scenario is each and every time and decide where you can be most effective. In our current situation I think it will be more effective for me on the sideline.”

Being close to the action and being able to talk to his players directly and look them in the eye could yield dividends for Duffner, who is lauded as a players coach.

“Anything you’re involved with, I think it’s all much better for everybody involved if you show care,” Duffner said. “If your players know that you care about them, I think they’re going to respond in a positive way. They know if it’s genuine or not. I love what I’m doing. You get a chance to see people in a lot of different scenarios where you can assist them in terms of whether it’s off the field or on the field in terms of interaction with them and really getting to know them.”

Bucs LBs coach Mark Duffner with former Ohio State LB Chris Worley at an East-West Shrine practice - Photo by: PR
Bucs LBs coach Mark Duffner with former Ohio State LB Chris Worley at an East-West Shrine practice – Photo by: PR

Duffner, who was PewterReport.com’s Assistant Coach of the Year last season, is a tireless worker in the offseason during the Bucs’ scouting process. No other Tampa Bay coach attends more pro days than Duffner, who doesn’t just focus on linebackers in the scouting process. Duffner was on the field during the defensive line drills at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine scouting those players in addition to the linebackers.

“He puts in a lot of time,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “He puts a lot of time in free agency – getting to know guys, trying to recruit guys. At the Combine, Duff’s one of those coaches that if there are 40 linebackers at the Combine, he’s meeting with every one of them and comes away with a relationship with him. It’s always amazing, when it comes down to signing undrafted guys, how many times that’s made a difference.”

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who was drafted in the third round in 2017, remembers meeting Duffner prior to the draft.

“I met him at the Combine, but he just kept asking about the horses,” Beckwith said. “That was his thing, he just kept asking about horses. He learned that I mess around with horses. I’ve got a barn and like four stables and some land. I’ve had them all of my life. I have four horses. He was like, ‘I rode a horse one time,’ and he was talking about the one time he rode them and his experience with that. He just kept asking different questions about them, just really picking my brain about them. I kept wondering, why is he asking me about horses? Low and behold, he became my coach.

Bucs DC and LBs coach Mark Duffner – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs DC and LBs coach Mark Duffner – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

“I didn’t have a meeting or anything with Tampa at the Combine and stuff. I came on a visit here and got a chance to talk to Coach Duff some more. We went out to dinner and he hasn’t changed since. Who he was at dinner before I came here is the same man I see when I go in that meeting room or come in the building. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve been able to work with – just his personality and how hard he works. He works very hard on making sure we’re as prepared as we can be. That’s just how he is. He’s a very caring person. He wants the best for us.”

As a sixth-round pick in 2016, linebacker Devante Bond was the first linebacker to be drafted in Duffner’s first year in Tampa Bay. He recalled how Duffner stood out to him in the pre-draft process.

“I remember I got a call when I was training down in Miami, and he was one of the coaches that called me,” Bond said. “I think there were two coaches that called that year but he was one of them. We talked for a while and then when I got to the Combine and we talked some more, and I had a meeting with the whole organization and then I saw him at my pro day at OU, too. He was everywhere.

“When I first talked to him he asked me about a tight end that like blew me up and he was like, ‘You handled all the tight ends in college but there was one that got to you.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? There wasn’t anyone who got to me.’ I had to realize there was this one guy at Baylor (LaQuan McGowan), he was like a big 400-pound guy, I can’t remember his name. I’ll never forget that conversation. After that we just talked about me as a person, my family and whatnot. He definitely cares. He cares about you as a person. Not just in the building, but what’s going on outside of the building. It’s not just numbers and X’s and O’s, it’s you as a man and a person so you definitely appreciate that.”

The linebackers feed off Duffner’s energy, which is quite remarkable given the fact that he is a spry 65-year old.

“Duff is just a big energy guy,” Bond said. “I have no clue [how he keeps up with us at his age.] I hope I’m like that when I’m 65, that’s all I’m going to say.

Bucs DC and LBs coach Mark Duffner and DT Gerald McCoy - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DC and LBs coach Mark Duffner and DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“He believes in energy and everybody coming together – we’re all one unit, one big dynamite. That’s the big difference I notice with Duff. They’re different people – Mike had his way of doing it, and all the coaches have their own way of doing different things – but Duff’s definitely a high-energy guy.”

The Bucs are counting on Duffner’s energy in practice and on the sidelines to get more out of Tampa Bay’s defensive players. And as the other Bucs defenders come to know him as the linebackers do, they’ll want to run through a brick wall for him, too.

“Everybody that has a relationship with Duff, it makes them want to play that much harder for a person,” Bond said. “Even with your teammates, when you’re doing stuff outside of football, it’s not just football, you want to go just that much harder for that person.”

Rookie linebacker Jack Cichy, who was Tampa Bay’s sixth-round pick this year, also formed a bond with Duffner before the draft and was impressed with his comprehensive approach.

“He definitely takes an interest in the lives of his players both in the facility and outside of the facility and that’s something that’s really invaluable, I think, just because of how much it means to the players,” Cichy said. “You don’t have a problem playing for a guy like that when you know he’s behind you and that he thoroughly cares for you. It makes it easy to play for a guy like that. He cares about Jack Cichy, number 48, just as much as he cares about Jack Cichy, the guy from Wisconsin.”

Bucs DC and LBs coach Mark Duffner with LB Jack Cichy - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DC and LBs coach Mark Duffner with LB Jack Cichy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Just because Duffner is a caring guy doesn’t mean that he’s a big softie. Duffner has been known to really get on his players and demand accountability. That would be a welcomed change in Tampa Bay on the defensive side of the ball, and his presence on the sideline should help.

“I believe our approach has always been we play defense as aggressively as we possibly can,” Duffner said. “That doesn’t define meaning necessarily all blitz or pressure. That means that you play hard, that you play physical, you play smart – all those words kind of go into that word, ‘aggressive’. You can play aggressive coverage and be in zone defense. You can play aggressive run defense and not be in a pressure situation, so I think aggressive and physical is what we’ve got to be on defense. Defense has no room for being soft.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

35 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure you guys already know that you can read past page one.

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    • NVM. Wish I could delete last post. Sorry.

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  2. I think that has been the thought at this point – a loss here means all hope for this season is lost after 6 games. Problem is, against rookie QBs, the Bucs are absolutely horrendous.

    Greg Altmann just published the following. While the past does not predict the future, this is pretty damning:

    NFL’s worst records against rookie QBs since 2011?

    Bucs 1-10
    Jaguars 5-9
    Browns 6-10
    Vikings 5-6
    Raiders 3-3
    Bills 7-7
    49ers 6-5
    Redskins 8-6
    Chiefs 4-3
    Titans 9-6
    Eagles 6-4

    So the Bucs are by far the worst team dealing with Rookie QBs going back over the last 7 years. Yes, the Bucs have been bad during this time but not winning here just means they are terrible yet again this year and probably it is the end of Koetter/Licht by the end of the season.

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  3. What scares me about Duffner as DC is that the linebackers, his unit, are really not doing anything that great this year.

    not great at blitzing, not great at gap assignments, not great in coverage. If he is not able to coach them up can he really coach up the rest of the D?

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    • Not great at blitzing?? Umm because Mike Smith rarely called blitz’s for them.

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    • How much of that is Duffner and how much of it is Mike Smiths scheme and rarely blitzing? Maybe Duffner wanted to blitz more and Smith wouldn’t let him. We will find out soon.

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  4. You want to play harder for coach Duffner because you know he cares for you? What kind of crap is that? You should play as hard as possible all the time for yourself, your team, and because you absolutely hate to lose. There’s our problem in a nut shell. We have a mentally weak defense, with mentally weak leadership who’ve been to O.K. with losing for to long. We need a defensive face lift from scheme, to so called star players who’ve under preformed these last few years. I hope Duff can get more out of this crew, I’m just not sure this is the crew that can get it done.

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  5. One word:

    APATHY….

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  6. Just get a win…. no more talk, no more excuses, no more hugs, just win….

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  7. While all games are important in a 16 game season, the notion that a single game will make or break a 16 game season is just media hype. I’m a skeptic about the current Bucs regime and team, but surprising outcomes are always possible in a 16 game season.

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  8. I do not think drafting another RB is necessary. Better to develop Barber and ROJO as this is a pass first team now. Plus, I still like that rookie Wilson. So in summary you have two rookies at RB and a third year guy starting to find his groove. No reason to panic at the RB spot.

    Once the Bucs start building leads and the defense improves so will the running attempts and rushing yards. That is how most NFL teams that have good rushing attack do it. The old school way of playing defense + running the ball with a lead.

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  9. The Browns think they can win this game. The Bucs will find a way to lose like they always do. This is the season. 4 losses in a row and a 2-4 record. its over if they lose and its over for Koetter and Licht. We need a new regime. Think Tony Dungy, President of Football Operations and go from there.

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  10. Is it really the best strategy to have the least rushing attempts in the NFL? Yes, the passing offense is doing well, but if you can’t run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, is there really any chance for a team to succeed? How have the RBs been inhibited by an offense that is not running that much? Rojo has the talent. The offense needs to evolve into a more balanced squad. Not running the ball also keeps the D on the field, and nobody wants to see that.

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  11. surferdudes, you are speaking with so much more clarity lately, did you get off the bong diet.
    I remember when Scott presented hiss case for firing Lovie and he changed my mind with his sound argument.
    Last year Scott didn’t call for Koetter’s firing but he sure was pining openly for Jon Gruden to return.
    Thank god that didn’t happen.
    I guess Reynolds had amnesia when it came to Gruden’s draft picks and personnel moves once he got his own lap dog into the GM office.
    The Glazer’s aren’t going to fire anyone for the rest of the season so to speculate now on the subject is ridiculous unless Reynolds has an ulterior motive.
    Let the season play out and see what happens.
    If the offense keeps operating at a high level and the defense keeps playing like a bunch of clumsy moronic girls scouts like they have been for the last 5 games, why would you fire Koetter.
    Licht put together this defense and the personnel and as good a job as he has done finding some offensive nuggets, especially in FA, he hasn’t done the same for the defense.
    So far. his defensive picks have been huge underachievers.
    So why do you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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    • Drdnest, I have been saying the same thing. Koetter is an offensive minded coach who doesn’t know a lot about defenses. He trusted Mike Smith which turned out to be a mistake. Koetter has built us the best offense we have ever had in Tampa. We are avg 28 ppg and over 450 ypg. Those are crazy numbers for us. Koetter was hired to develop Winston and improve our offense which he has done so far. We just need a great DC who can make our defense avg. With an avg defense we can make the playoffs and be a contender.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • You said the free agent pics on defense have underwhelmed. I don’t believe JPP is underwhelming.

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  12. I really want to grab Armani Oruwariye in round 1 to pair with Carlton Davis outside!!

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    • He looks good but I really like Greedy Williams from LSU.

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      • Greedy Williams, best DB name ever!

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      • Greedy goes in top 10-15. I’m wanting the Bucs to pick around 20 or a little later. That means they won 8+ games 🙂

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    • I didn’t see anything special about Oruwariye in that video other than his ability to position himself to make plays. Most of interceptions were on balls the quarterback should have never thrown. He doesn’t look like he wants to tackle either. Not starting for Penn State. PASS

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  13. I hope Tampa doesn’t draft another skill player with their high draft picks. Invest in the lines and secondary. 2017 was the year to get a RB and Tampa missed – and SR is right about Tampa’s perception of Martin. That, combined with other needs and the fact that OJ Howard was a gift too good to pass up in the first round, pushed RB down the priority list. A better O-Line will enhance Barber and Jones.

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    • Agree, I want to grab a true LT and move Donovan Smith to RT.

      2019 2nd round pick/Marpet/Jensen/Cappa/Smith 🙂

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  14. Forget the draft until after the season.
    Does anyone think we could trade McCoy for even get a fifth round selection for after the way he has played this season. I don’t.
    Scott, glad you used the Rhonde Barber example of how it takes some time for some players to develop in this instant gratification world we live in today.
    What surprises me even more is some so called “fans” are so qucik to call players busts just so they can be proven right about the choice or thier hatred toward the GM and everything he does.
    That is a big sign of narcisisism. Another character flaw more evident in today’s society.
    As for me, I make no bones about the fact I know very little about any of the Bucs draft picks when they are chosen and because I have a job that doesn’t involve being involved in evaluating professional football talent, to pretend that I did would only make me look pompous.
    I too think RoJo is showing improvement to and hope he continues to do so.
    Why would any reasonable thinking Bucs fan wish otherwise.
    Unfortunately, as we often see from some of the posts out here, there are others that don’t.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • C’mon Naplesfan, after all these years , you are still spelling Ronde with an ‘h’?

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  15. Good Article Scott. Defense I hope will stay close to LOS because of Browns running game. We need big DL in this game, not a tweener like Spence.
    Bucs should win this game.

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  16. I know the Browns are a different team now, but please don’t lose to them lol.

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  17. What was wrong with Dare O?

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  18. SR creates a straw man to defend Vea…..real shocker!

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  19. And once again, we are looking ahead to the Draft before Halloween. Boo! There’s still a lot of football left before we Bucs fans should be so eager to declare the season over; even if the Browns win on Sunday. This is the history of our fan base. As Buc-N-Phiily said, “APATHY”.

    In spite of the Browns being regarded as the NFL’s worst team the past few years, there will be thousands of their fans infesting our “home” turf to create Dawg Pound south. “Woof Woof” cheers will be heard anytime the Brownies do something positive. They still have that thing we “homers” call “hope”.

    I’ve said many times. All teams can beat you and you can beat all teams. The Browns have made a lot of Draft blunders, but also have made some good choices. I really liked Baker Mayfield’s demeanor. It’s just a matter of putting it together and gaining confidence. They have lost games similarly to our own Pewter Pirates. Those types of defeats are the most difficult to get over.

    As WNB0395 said, this Offense is as good as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, the Defense has been as bad as I can ever remember. We’re not used to this flip-flop. This sure isn’t Dungy Ball. No longer will Sapp’s 17 points win the game. Start fast and just keep your foot on the accelerator.

    Already, after a surprising 2-0 start, a couple of woulda, coulda, shoulda won close losses and one ass-whippin we’re too ready to sing, “The Thrill is Gone” and turnout Don Merrideth’s lights.

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  20. Buc stops here- I knew our Bucs had issues, but that’s worse than I had thought. Add in back-up QBs, and it’s even worse!

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  21. Do you think that our GM heard that Kareem Hunt liked our uniforms and said I could never draft a man with such awful taste?
    RoJo will run the ball when the O LINE starts blocking, easy does it on the RoJo bust talk.
    One more comment. I am glad the Duffer will be on the field, never thought or liked idea of coaching from the booth. How can you get a guy motivated unless you are looking him in the eye.
    GO BUCS

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  22. Poor product for over a decade. Now what was SR saying?

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