FAB 2. Inside Bowles’ Bucs Defense

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to transition to a 3-4 Under defensive front in base defense under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, although Bowles will mix up the looks from play to play in an effort to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Sometimes the Bucs will feature four defensive linemen or perhaps just two, but Bowles is expected to play a healthy dose of 3-4 schemes as the Bucs’ base defense.

Tampa Bay’s existing personnel can transition to a 3-4 front, as I outlined in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column. The biggest difference from the past years under former defensive coordinator Mike Smith is that the defensive linemen won’t be asked to lock on to a guard or tackle and control their man to free up the Bucs linebackers to make a play.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

In Bowles’ scheme, each member of Tampa Bay’s front seven will attack their gap and attempt to get a tackle for loss or a sack with the secondary playing a healthy dose of man coverage with a single high safety on most passing downs, occasionally reverting to Cover 2 Man Under.

The Big Takeaway
A 3-4 Under front features a three-man defensive line consisting of a strongside defensive end, typically playing a five technique with outside shading of the offensive tackle, a nose tackle playing a one-technique over the center playing on the strong side of the line, and a three technique defensive tackle playing with outside shading over the guard in the B gap.

As you would expect, there are four linebackers in a 3-4 scheme – two inside ‘backers and two outside ‘backers. It’s the same style of defense that the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens run, but to the naked eye it can also resemble a 4-3 front because sometimes the WILL (weakside) linebacker will have his hand down in a three-point stance.

Regardless of whether the Bucs will be in a 3-4, a 4-3 or a 3-3 front, Tampa Bay will be attacking the line of scrimmage and playing one gap.

I called on Bucs linebacker and former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter, who was Arizona’s second-round pick in 2013 and played under Bowles for two years, to assist in breaking down Tampa Bay’s new defensive scheme.

Quotes That Matter
“His mindset is to attack,” Minter said of Bowles. “Exotic defenses and exotic blitzes – I remember we had four or five new blitzes that we had to learn every week. There were different packages where he would bring guys from all over the field – corners, safeties and linebackers, of course. Tampa should be excited to have a D-coordinator like that.”

Minter went on to identify the linebacker positions in Bowles’ scheme.

Bucs ILB Kevin Minter
Bucs ILB Kevin Minter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“The four linebackers are SAM, WILL, MIKE and MO,” Minter said. “The two outside guys are SAM and WILL on the strongside and weakside. MIKE is what you think it is – he’s the middle linebacker that is on the closed side (strongside) of the defense. MO aligns inside on the open side (weakside) in the base defense.”

Because the Bucs will be playing quite a bit of nickel defense at least two-thirds of the time in the modern day NFL, Bowles uses two linebackers and either three cornerbacks and two safeties, or three safeties and two cornerbacks in the secondary.

“In nickel the linebackers are called Backer and Moneybacker,” Minter said. “The Moneybacker is the linebacker that normally aligns to the tight end side. He’s designated as the Money, and the guy away from him is typically the Backer, but Coach might switch it up. I heard that he’s going to change some stuff up, but that’s what I came up on in Arizona and with the Jets last year.”

Minter said that the defense isn’t just centered around the linebacker play.

“It’s not just linebacker-friendly, Coach Bowles has a little bit of everything for everybody in this defense,” Minter said. ““Kwon and Lavonte will thrive in this scheme – absolutely. They’ll both like Coach Bowles as a person, too. They’ll like both B.A. and Coach Bowles.

“The linebackers will love this defense and so will the safeties, but it’s a pretty well-rounded defense. He’s got stuff in there for everybody to make plays. Even our base defense is built for everybody – whoever wants to make the plays can make the plays. It’s one of those schemes where if everyone does their job there will be enough plays to go around.”

Bucs Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David - Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR

Stories You Have To Read
In researching Bowles’ defense and play-calling tendencies I came across two really good articles that are worth reading.

The first is from SI.com from 2013 during Bowles’ first season in Arizona under head coach Bruce Arians and how he filled in admirably for departed defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

The second article is from GangGreenNation.com from 2015 and discussed what style of defense Bowles was going to bring to New York when he became head coach of the Jets after two seasons as Arizona’s defensive coordinator under Arians.

Bucs defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers was the defensive coordinator under Bowles with the Jets from 2015-18.

The FABulous Ending
Arians didn’t rule out the Bucs remaining in a 4-3 or using a 4-3 scheme in Tampa Bay this year during his initial press conference.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Getty Images

“What we’ll do is what our players do best,” Arians said. “Three-four, four-three, some call is over and under. We call it different – they still line up the same. Not a two-gap team. We’re going to attack. As long as our players attack – in today’s NFL, you’re in nickel defense 70 percent of the time, so you’re playing a four-man line. We’ll have odd-man lines, we’ll have four-man lines. That’s just schematics to me.”

But the reality is that the Bucs hired two linebackers coaches in Mike Caldwell (inside) and Larry Foote (outside), and have just one defensive line coach in Rodgers. That tips Bowles’ hand to the reality that the Bucs’ base defense will likely be a 3-4 scheme.

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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]

33 COMMENTS

  1. A block-shedding tackling machine like Ed Oliver is my hope when the card is turned in.

    Devin White does seem like a great prospect. He would definitely have immediate rapport with whichever LSU linebackers(Kwon/Minter/Beckwith) are left on the team.

    Someone has to replace McCoy though. Vea and Oliver would wreak havoc.

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    • On a trade down yes for sure but not at 5. Oliver will be there at the 10-15 range

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    • I’d be happy with the Bucs picking Oliver or White. I think it will boil down to: 1. what the Bucs do with McCoy, 2. Free agency moves, and 3. Alexander and Beckwith’s rehab progress. Another way to put this is that if Alexander and / or Beckwith were healthy, I wouldn’t waste that pick on another linebacker and I’d be shouting for Ed Oliver in the 1st round until the cows come home.

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  2. I really hope the new staff can revive Spence’s career, but I’m tired of all the hype surrounding him. The truth is on one of the worst defenses in the NFL he never saw the field. Talent rises above scheme, and fit, if Spence showed he could get to the Q.B. during preseason games he would’ve played. I watched him go one, on one against third teamers in that last preseason game, and he got completely stone walled. You either have that God given ability, or you don’t. Von Miller would be sacking Q.B.’s in any scheme. From what I’ve seen of Spence he’s been a waste of a roster spot. Time to put up, or hit the road. I’m warming up more to White being our first pick, just hope we trade down, and still get him. The Bucs need better size at LB. Don’t mind a one year prove it deal for Kwon, but that’s it. Learning a new defense, and not being able to hit the grass for OTA’s, and most likely training camp will put him behind the 8 ball. Both him, and David are undersized, and have trouble getting off blocks. Having the fast, strong White in the middle might be the tone setter this defense has been missing for years.

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    • Talent does rise above scheme, but it doesn’t necessarily rise above coaching abilities or biases, especially if that player needs some additional development as Spence did. For whatever reason, Buckner didn’t want Spence involved much at all. None of us really has any insight into that situation, so all we really know at this point is that Spence is still with the Bucs and Buckner isn’t.

      I remember when Rice’s talent was being wasted in Phoenix and he first came to the Bucs. He was only getting 5-7 sacks a season if I remember correctly (?), changed scene and changed schemes and finally reached his potential.

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      • Right – I watched Spence in training camp last summer and was impressed with his speed and strength. Was surprised when he disappeared during the season.

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  3. I thought the concern about Spence coming into the draft as a 3-4 LB was his slow 40m time.

    I wanted the Bucs to pickup Hunt off the Waiver Wire when the Chiefs cut him. We would’ve had him under his Rookie contract which wouldn’t cost as much as trying to sign him as Free Agent now even in his current situation. We could’ve pressed the NFL to suspend him immediately to count towards any games that he would miss. In that situation they would’ve had his rights but not have to pay him. By serving the punishment in 2018 it would mean missing less games in 2019 if any depending on the number of games he got. Now any team that signs him has to wait for the NFL to hand down punishment after they sign him and serve it. If they didn’t want him to play for the Bucs and take the PR hit, then they could’ve traded his rights to someone that wanted him. If you state up front that you only signed him so that you can trade him later, then no PR hit.

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    • Just a few thoughts on your Hunt ideas…

      The collective bargaining agreement ensures players don’t serve immediate suspensions. There is a process and it takes forever. I’m not sure when Hunt would start serving a suspension if he’s picked up by a new team. Could be mid year or later. Could be across two seasons. Who knows how many games he’ll get?

      If the Bucs signed him and decided they didn’t want to take a PR hit, as you put it, and decided to trade the player away, would his value take a hit since he just signed with a new team? Im thinking about Kelvin Benjamin as an example. Bills gave up quite a bit in a trade to Carolina to get him and ended up releasing him. Kansas City didn’t even have to claim him off waivers. He was without a team for a while if memory serves.

      It seems couterintuitive to sign the player, take backlash from detractors, then come back and say we did it to trade him away, thus ticking off supporters of the move.

      Im not a fan of this player, truth be told. He has had 3 incidents in his short career according to the paper, plus he lied to his team about what happened. There are lots of RB’s that need a shot. Get one that’s got his head screwed on straight.

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      • The way I look at it is even if we only got a 7th rounder for him, it’s a pick that we didn’t have for a player that cost nothing to get.

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  4. I was just thinking same thing about pre season and watched him going up against 3rd and 4th string scrubs and never sniffed a QB. It was crazy to see really. Not sure what his issue is perhaps he wasn’t as healthy as they say. Who knows. I don’t have lot faith he will do much but would be nice not to write off draft pick that high. He will get best shot to do something now for sure in 3-4 with better coaches.

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  5. Nice piece on White. I particularly like the idea that he’s a high-character guy to go with all of his other talents. I’m still a big Jonah fan as well. No OT in the mock? I can’t see that. I’m assuming that the Bucs are going to end up trading out of the 5 spot. Dropping a few spots and picking up another 2nd, and still having a shot at either of the afore mentioned, would work for me.

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    • I was wondering about OT as well, I know he’s probably thinking to keep Smith at LT but what about RT? Dotson?? Cappa?? I hope we find a better solution.

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      • That’s definitely a concern, Ry… The tackles on both sides are big question marks. I did like the Lindstrom pick in the mock… Guard as well.

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        • I’d go OT in the first round. Hope they do trade back a bit tho. Would love to see an extra pick or 2 added. Devin White looks great but this team needs an Oline bad. I expect Bowles to work wonders with the LBs and DBs already here. The next corner blitz will be the first one i can recall in years. Gona be exciting seeing a defense trying to make plays rather than hoping for offensive mistakes.

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          • I can see them going OT in the first round only if they manage to renegotiate McCoy’s contract and he stays here. Or, if Alexander’s on schedule or ahead of schedule with rehab.

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  6. Yes, sign Hunt ASAP. Funny you brought up the Tampa Bay Times articles. It is becoming an unreadable newspaper. Their politics has always been way out there, but the Sports section used to be good at least.

    Scott, you list all the linebackers we have (including Spence and JPP) and then insist on drafting another one first round. I don’t get it. Not all of those injuries will be limiting. Lets work on the O Line and another cover corner first…

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  7. I am warming up to the idea of drafting White, but I still think there’s bigger needs along the OL, at DT if we release GMC, and probably in the secondary. All this becomes even more true if Beckwith comes back 100% from his ankle injury, which from all I’ve heard doesn’t appear to be career threatening or anything. Drafting White would essentially relegate Beckwith to backup duties, while we still have immediate starters at multiple other positions. Seems silly to make a good player a backup when we still yet to have a starting caliber RG or DT to replace McCoy.

    As for Spence, I really do hope he can return to form in Bowles defense. I don’t think people focus enough on how multiple shoulder injuries really damaged his career thus far, as arm usage is absolutely crucial to success as a pass rusher. Then on top of that, being asked to gain weight when his best attribute as a rookie was his explosiveness only damaged it further. In Bowles system, hopefully he can think less and get back to the basics as a situational pass rushing OLB…which is what he was projected as coming out of college anyways.

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  8. Selecting a middle linebacker would the last nail in Licht’s coffin. I’m sure White will be excellent – maybe he’ll even be the next Kwon Alexander in this league – but unless he can cover Julio Jones, pass rush Cam Newton, or pass block Cam Jordan, it’s a luxury pick at #5.

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    • Don’t forget, Arians and his staff will have a lot of input toward who we select. I, for one want Oliver, whether McCoy is here next season or not. But, if they, as an organization, decide White is their guy, I trust that B.A. and Bowles know what they’re doing.

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  9. Nice Fab 5 Scott. White does sound awesome but i still think if there is a DL or OL player with the same ranking or higher on our draft board where ever we end up picking then we should still work on the trenches which I feel is more important right now. GO BUCS!!!

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  10. In a draft with elite talent along the DL you guys keep mocking us a LB. If Licht has shown us anything about his drafts its that he can identify impact LBs outside the 1st round. Stop with this waste of a pick, it should be Ed Oliver plain and simple. If you want to sell me on trading back and selecting the huge guard from Oklahoma Ford then I’m on board with it. But we need help along the trenches. As for Spence, he couldn’t get on the field for a team that needed pass rushing help. Hoping this staff can fix him is one thing, actually expecting it would be crazy. He’s slow for his position, the trait most of Licht’s busts have in common. See VHIII and maybe even MJ for details. I hope somebody tells him that when push comes to shove draft the superior athlete, stop with the “hard nosed” but athletically inferior players.

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  11. We’ll see if Bowles and company can salvage Spence career, if not he’s likely done.

    Yes re-sign Minter…. And Kwon!

    No still pass on White.

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  12. Fennelly and Morono- I mean Romano- need to follow their equally bitter and hateful former colleague Tom Jones into the cesspool or sunset or wherever they send washed up has beens.

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  13. We need to trade back with a QB needy team and pick up another 2nd round pick. White would be great but seems to be more of a luxury pick, unless there’s already info that Alexander or Beckwith won’t be available for next season. I agree with most that the lines are where we need to focus first and foremost. I could get on board with trading down and still getting a top LB as long as there is trench help available for us with our extra picks, but other than that…no

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  14. Scott, this is a great piece of writing; on exactly the right subjects for this stage of the new regime. Excellent insights and thought-provoking analysis of the most critical issues for the Bucs. Its clear that you put good work and thought into this.
    You’re doing a great job of upping your game at Pewter Report. PR has the best Bucs coverage in the business, by far. Thanks for that. Keep growing.

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    • Sycophantic suck up! Except that you’re right. Pewter Report is my favorite website to go to because of the in-depth Bucs reporting, perspective, and of course, feedback fan boards!

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      • BucWild02, thanks for agreeing. And when your insights are better than your criticism, I’ll say something similar about your writing.

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        • Ouch! I better pour a glass of the good stuff to ease my pain from your criticism. Truth is, I just wanted to (finally) use the word “sycophantic”.

          Cheers!

          Go Bucs!

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  15. I have written about it before, Spence should have never been drafted by the BUCs. He is not a 4-3 defensive end. He was meant to be a 3-4 rushing Linebacker. He is not that great at stopping the run, but he is a rushing lb in a 3-4 system. He has wasted his time on a 4-3 team trying to be a rushing DE like Paul. He is just not quite big enough to be a 4-3 end. He tried to bulk up like one and it did not work. It just slowed him down. He will now need to be back to his original weight, get his speed up, and see if Todd Bowles can use him in one of the now available 4 linebacker positions. With the Buc’s injuries at LB and if Spence can show that rushing ability, he will make the 53 man roster for Bowles. He has no trade value. You can cut him, but you might be surprised and get a valuable rushing LB that can be out there every down in a 3-4 system. In a 4-3 system they could only use him once in a while, maybe.

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  16. Great in-depth article once again, Scott. However, those NFL Teams that want Turnstyle Smith for their LT should get a phone call from Licht offering to trade him to the highest bidder and get a draft pick for him and don’t waste a penny of our cap on Smith who can’t stop speed rushers and draws lots of holding penalties and he would be no better at RT for us. Then drop down in the First and still take either Bama’s or Mississippi’s LT. If you get a second first pick go after Oliver to replace McCoy when he retires even if he takes a reduced contract. Oliver would still need to play half each game to keep McCoy fresh for the fourth Quarter. By drafting a first round LT you protect our cap for many other needs on this team. Both Beckwith and Alexander must be thoroughly studied by medical experts to see if either will be able to play this season. If either one will pass on White. We will have Minter inside to pair with them and will likely have Cichy back and Bullough behind them and still David and Taylor could also play inside too. We should have David outside on the weak side to start and have Spence on the other side. And if both Alexander and Beckwith both come back Beckwith could play Outside on the strong side if Spence couldn’t cut it and Taylor is able to play either outside position.

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    • Why would a team allow the Bucs to negotiate on their behalf for Smith’s salary and trade a draft pick or two? Why would Smith sign a contract or accept the tag to begin with. As an UFA he has a pick of 31 other teams to see what he can get? The only other option would be to franchise him and trade him to someone willing not only to give him 14 million, but give the Bucs a draft picks – all this for a one year player, unless of course they both sign him to a long term deal and work out draft compensation with the Bucs since they aren’t aren’t going to give up two first round picks. Since all the “experts” say he is the top Free Agent Left Tackle and will certainly be overpaid, his agents would be nuts. If the Bucs move on, which I hope they will as a fan only. I acknowledge, however; the coaches are much more capable than me of knowing his ability) and may want him. Best bet is hope for a high compensatory pick.

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  17. By the way Spence never looked slow running down QBs from outside in his first year here. This year in preseason he could not get around LTs so there was no way to see if he was slow. JPP and GMC thought he was “fast” this year from practices against him so I have no idea where the idea he is slow comes from. JPP and GMC should know better from first hand experience. I thoroughly believe Spence can at last be developed properly to play outside strongside LB for the 3-4 base defense. With our second round pick this year we should grab Charles Omenahu from Texas so our Defense should be really scary for our opponents especially since Bowles teaches five or six new blitzes each week for our adversaries. I hope Bowles will go one step further this year and take some lessons from Clemson’s DC when beating Bama and learn how to disguise his defenses to set up interceptions. Also I hope BA will teach Jameis how to alter his cadence to trick opponents to jump off sides and get some free plays to throw deep. Koetter foolishly would not let Jameis do that.

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  18. It’s great that we have new trainers, but does anyone know if the medical staff was replaced?

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