FAB 3. Arians Has Already Brought Change To The Buccaneers
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians was brought to Tampa Bay to change things – most importantly the team’s record, which has been stuck at 5-11 in each of the last two years.
The Bucs also want to change the franchise’s fortunes when it comes to the playoffs after a 12-year absence. Arians, who took Arizona to new heights with three playoff trips before retiring after the 2017 season, was hired due to his proven track record, winning Super Bowls with Pittsburgh and NFL Coach of the Year honors in Indianapolis and Arizona.
Will Jason Licht’s luring Arians out of retirement work, or will Arians be the latest former successful coach who can’t recapture his past glory in Tampa Bay like Sam Wyche and Lovie Smith? Time will ultimately tell, but Arians has already brought some real fundamental change to the Bucs in several areas. Let’s take a look.
Switching To A 3-4 Defense
The Bucs have come full circle and return to running a 3-4 defense that the franchise first started with under head coach John McKay and defensive coordinator Abe Gibron over 40 years ago in 1976. Todd Bowles had great success as the Cardinals defensive coordinator running the 3-4 from 2013-14 before taking the New York Jets head-coaching job in 2015.
Tampa Bay becomes one of 12 defenses to feature a 3-4 scheme in 2019 along with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Houston, the Los Angeles Rams, the New York Giants, Washington, Chicago, Tennessee, Denver and Arizona. New England and Detroit plan on running hybrid defenses, and there has been some talk of that as well in Carolina, too.
Bowles has a reputation for blitzing often and being aggressive with his calls, while asking for his cornerbacks to play press-man coverage. The Bucs seem to have the personnel for it with the likes of nose tackle Vita Vea, first-round pick Devin White at middle linebacker, edge rushers Carl Nassib and Shaq Barrett, some big, physical cornerbacks in Carlton Davis, Vernon Hargreaves III and rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, and with newly acquired three-technique defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. How quickly the rookies get up to speed, Nassib’s production as an outside linebacker and Vea’s improvement will likely tell the tale of how successful Tampa Bay’s transition to a 3-4 defense is.
Different Camp Practice Times
Gone are the two-a-day practices under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, the latter of whom had morning and blistering afternoon practices in the sweltering heat of Orlando. The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates just one practice per day for today’s NFL players, and Arians will have Tampa Bay practicing at four different times throughout August.
The Bucs begin with five straight camp practices at 4:00 p.m. because there are three 4:05 p.m. kickoffs on Tampa Bay’s schedule this year, in addition to a 4:25 p.m. start in the season opener against San Francisco. The Bucs then have three straight 6:30 p.m. practices as Tampa Bay travels to Carolina for an 8:20 p.m. kickoff on Thursday Night Football in Week 2. The Bucs then have an 8:00 a.m. camp practice because the team will travel to London to play the Panthers in Week 6 on October 13, followed by four more 4:00 p.m. practices and then two final 10:00 a.m. joint practices with Miami to end the preseason.
Former Bucs head coaches Greg Schiano and Dirk Koetter typically stuck with morning practice times throughout most of camp, while the bulk of Arians’ camp practices will take place in the late afternoon or early evening. The hottest part of the day in Tampa is typically at 4:00 p.m., but that’s also when it usually rains in the summer, too. Expect a couple of those afternoon practices to be moved indoors.
Bucs Invest In Sports Science
According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs were the most injured team in 2018 and paid for it with their “Adjusted Games Lost” statistical model, which said that Tampa Bay’s players – mostly on defense – totaled the most games missed of any team in the league. As a result, the Bucs hired a new strength and conditioning staff led by Anthony Piroli and featuring a speed and conditioning coach in Roger Kingdom, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and kept head trainer Bobby Slater. The big difference with Piroli is that he is doing position-specific training where wide receivers aren’t doing the same exercises as the offensive linemen, which makes a lot of sense given the different body types.
Overseeing both strength and conditioning and the training staff is director of athlete performance Greg Skaggs, who served as the University of Oregon’s director of athletic medicine from 2007-2019. According to the team’s website, “Skaggs will help develop a program to optimize player performance and safety while collaborating with the medical services team who will implement evidence-based recovery protocols and evaluate factors to help predict and prevent future injuries.”
The hope is that Skaggs, Piroli and Slater can work together to help players avoid getting injured and to get injured players back on the field quicker. Arians and Licht are becoming big believers in sports science, and each player will have heat monitors attached to them during practice to gauge fatigue levels during training camp in order to keep the team healthy.
Arians became a trailblazer for female coaches in the league when he hired Jen Welter to be an assistant linebackers intern coach in Arizona during the 2015 training camp. Arians took his trailblazing to the next level this offseason by hiring the first two full-time female assistant coaches to his staff in Tampa Bay.
Lori Locust was hired to serve as an assistant defensive line coach to Kacy Rodgers. The 55-year old Locust comes to the Bucs from the Birmingham Iron of the now defunct AAF, and did a summer internship in Baltimore last year with former Tampa Bay defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who serves in the same capacity with the Ravens.
The other female coach is Maral Javadifar, who is a new assistant strength and conditioning coach. Javadifar received a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from Pace and then earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from New York Medical College. Her main area of practice with the Bucs will be in physical therapy.
Bucs Add A Kicking Coach
No position has been the cause of more frustration in Tampa Bay than the kicker. Licht has drafted two kickers, signed veteran kickers, signed in-season replacements and even traded for a kicker since he took over as general manager in 2014. The Bucs have entered each of the past five seasons with a new starting kicker, which is in direct correlation to the fact that the Bucs have had just one winning record – a 9-7 mark in 2016 – since Licht became G.M.
Cairo Santos, a veteran who was signed as a midseason replacement for Chandler Catanzaro last year, is vying for the kicking job this year along with rookie Matt Gay, a fifth-round pick. Santos is accurate from inside 40 yards, but doesn’t have a big leg and struggles with long field goals and kickoffs. Gay has a booming leg and seems accurate as the Lou Groza Award winner last year, but is unproven at the NFL level.
To help either Santos or Gay navigate life in Tampa Bay and the NFL as the Bucs attempt to end their kicking curse is new specialist coach Chris Boniol, who was kicker in Dallas for six years. Boniol will also oversee the tutelage of new punter Bradley Pinion, but his primary job will be to improve the field goal and extra point accuracy in Tampa Bay. Licht wanted to add a kicking coach to the staff and Arians was all for it.
Bucs Rookie Academy
Bucs director of player development Duke Preston has always done a great job of preparing the team’s rookies for the transition to life in the NFL on and off the field. This year he got a big assist from Arians and Licht with the Bucs Rookie Academy. While Tampa Bay’s veterans got to leave for summer vacation three weeks ago, the rookies, including the team’s draft picks and undrafted free agents, had to stay behind for three additional weeks before a four-week break prior to training camp.
The rookies got some extra work in the classroom as a result, which should help them on the field once training camp starts. That’s important because the team will be counting on this year’s rookie class to play a lot and produce, especially the defensive players. It will even be more important for next year’s rookie class because the veterans will have already played a full year in Arians’ offense and Todd Bowles’ defense and will be much further ahead than the 2020 rookies. This year’s rookie class might even have a jump on the veterans because it’s a new system on offense and defense for everyone at One Buc Place.
In addition to extra time in the classroom watching film and learning how to study and be a pro, the rookies also got to bond by going to a Rays game, had a social justice initiative with the Tampa police department, did some charity activities and really bonded together over the past three weeks. Preston even brought in Bespoke & Co., the official custom clothier for PewterReport.com, to put on a style class when it comes to dressing up for home and away games, team functions, charities and events, and also had Patricia Rossi come in and provide an etiquette class.
So will the changes that Arians has brought to Tampa Bay even matter in the end? Will these changes help the Bucs will more games in 2019? They need to because in the end changing Tampa Bay’s record for the better is really all that is important.