FAB 4. Horton Would Be An Interesting D.C Candidate

Whether Dirk Koetter stays on in Tampa Bay or the Bucs end up hiring Jon Gruden, the team will need a new defensive coordinator in 2018, as Mike Smith is not expected to return after a very disappointing year by the defense.

If Koetter stays, speculation will turn to good friend Marvin Lewis, who is stepping down as Cincinnati’s head coach at the end of the season, to be the Bucs’ new defensive coordinator. Lewis was the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator from 1996-2001 where he won a Super Bowl title in 2000 with his top-ranked 4-3 Under defensive scheme. Ironically, Smith was his linebackers coach during that time. In 2002, Lewis became the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach in Washington before taking the Bengals head-coaching job in 2003.

Former Bills head coach Rex Ryan - Photo by: Getty Images
Former Bills head coach Rex Ryan – Photo by: Getty Images

If Gruden comes back to the Bucs, speculation will turn to his friend and ESPN colleague Rex Ryan, who ironically, was the defensive line coach under Lewis in Baltimore from 1999-2001. Ryan, the son of legendary Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, continued as the Ravens defensive line coach until he took over as defensive coordinator from 2005-08 when he switched to a 3-4 scheme. Baltimore’s defense ranked first in 2006 and third in 2008. Ryan became the New York Jets head coach from 2009-14 and the Buffalo Bills head coach from 2015-16 and deployed a 3-4 defense at both stops.

But there is another name that the Bucs should consider for defensive coordinator regardless of who the head coach is – Ray Horton. The 57-year old Horton didn’t coach last year after being fired from Cleveland after one season but was fired by Hue Jackson.

I’m not going to hold that against him. It’s the Browns for God’s sake.

Horton, a former NFL cornerback and safety, coached defensive backs under Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin from 2004-10. Horton learned under Dick LeBeau’s and brought his “Blitzburgh” 3-4 scheme to Arizona in 2011 when he was named defensive coordinator, working for head coach Ken Wisenhunt.

In two years with the Cardinals, Horton took a unit that ranked 29th in total defense in 2010 and improved to 18th in the league in 2011 and 12th in 2012, which was his last season in Arizona. Horton’s third-down defense, which typically featured blitzes, was the best in the NFL in 2011 and the second-best the next year. In 2012, the Cardinals led the league in passer rating allowed (71.2), ranked second in interceptions (22), third in red zone defense (44.4 percent), fifth in takeaways (33 and fifth in passing yards allowed (200.8 ypg.). Horton helped turn cornerback Patrick Peterson into a shutdown man corner and a Pro Bowler.

After Winsenhunt and his staff were fired after the 2012 campaign, Horton interviewed for the Browns head-coaching job, which ultimately went to Rob Chudzinski. Horton was so impressive in his interview that he was hired to be Cleveland’s defensive coordinator.

Former Cardinals DC Ray Horton - Photo by: Getty Images
Former Cardinals DC Ray Horton – Photo by: Getty Images

“I can’t control if the quarterback throws the ball in three steps, five steps or seven – that’s not my decision,” said Horton, whose Cardinals defense ranked second in blitzes in 2012, upon being hired by the Browns. “What I can do hopefully is (place) enough pressure where those are big plays, where you get off on third down. … There is a lot of hidden yardage, hidden statistics in a game … and there is a lot of ways to affect the quarterback without hitting the quarterback.”

After finishing 23rd in the NFL in 2012, the Browns ranked ninth in total defense (332.4 ypg.) in 2013, which was the team’s best finish since 1994. Horton’s defensive line coach was Joe Cullen, who guided Cleveland’s defensive front to limit opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked eighth in the NFL and was the team’s lowest average in 18 years. The Browns also registered 40 sacks, which were the most since the 2001 season. Like he did with Peterson in Arizona, Horton helped Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden make the Pro Bowl, in addition to Browns safety T.J. Ward, who earned a Pro Bowl berth for the first time in his career.

But despite the progress that was made, Chudzinski and his staff were fired after just one season in Cleveland. Cullen ended up in Tampa Bay on Lovie Smith’s coaching staff, while Horton went to Tennessee to reunite with Wisenhunt.

Horton didn’t have as much success with the Titans, who won just five games over two years before Wisenhunt and the staff got fired. Tennessee recorded 39 sacks in each of the two seasons, and the defense improved from 27th to 12th in total yards and from 29th to 27th in scoring defense with only one Pro Bowl player on the roster in defensive lineman Jurrell Casey.

“Scheme-wise, one of the most impressive things about Ray is his flexibility,” Wisenhunt said about Horton in Tennessee in 2014. “He has the ability to go between a 4-3 and 3-4 and put our players in the best position to succeed. It has been evident by what he has done and where his defenses have ranked in the league over the last few years.”

“As for our defensive system, I have said from day one that I don’t coach a particular alignment, I coach men who want to get after it and we will play physical and fundamentally sound,” Horton said upon taking the job in 2014. “We will do whatever suits the men that I coach and whatever the Tennessee Titans can do best.”

Former Browns DC Ray Horton - Photo by: Getty Images
Former Browns DC Ray Horton – Photo by: Getty Images

Horton then went back to the Browns, but couldn’t replicate the success he had in Cleveland the first time and was fired after just one season. Ward was gone, Haden didn’t play as well, and the Browns defense lacked talent in finishing 1-15. Of course the Browns are 0-15 this season.

Bringing Horton and his blitzing 3-4 Under scheme to the Bucs would be interesting as he has more talent to work with in Tampa Bay than he did in Tennessee or Cleveland. Surrounding Horton with his long-time defensive backs coach Louie Cioffi, bringing Cullen back from Baltimore to coach the defensive line, and keeping Duffner on staff to coach linebackers might best utilize the current talent on this Bucs roster.

Horton could set David, Alexander, Spence and Beckwith free to take turns teeing off on the quarterback on blitzes, which is something they haven’t done nearly enough of under Smith.

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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]

34 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t want to fire Koetter or Smith. The only change I want is for Koetter to turn over play calling to OC.
    I do not think Gruden is the answer.
    Okay. I’m waiting for the angry villagers to storm my house with pitchforks and torches.

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  2. Who are the stick carriers? I wish y’all at PR would have a general consensus about this subject. Some say he’s definitely gone and now maybe not. I was hoping you had more insight than the rest of us lol.

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  3. My feeling all along has been exactly what you said here and what the Pewter Poll should be changed to reflect: The ONLY reason to fire Koetter is if Gruden is already boxed, wrapped, tied up with a bow and waiting for us under the Christmas tree the day after Black Monday. If Gruden decides not to leave ESPN or chooses another team for his comeback, then Koetter should stay with appropriate changes (turning over play-calling, a new DC that runs a 3-4 that fits our defensive talent better).

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    • Our personnel does NOT fit a 34 front. Spence on the edge is about it. The rest are pure 43 guys. Awful idea.

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      • I disagree with you Mr. Ken Grant. The Bucs have beef up front in McCoy, Baker, and Golston. Plus they will get Stevie Touiloulou(sp?) back next year and have Siliga currently. At LB, the Bucs have David, Alexander, Beckwith, and Spence. Thats a pretty good 3-4 lineup. Bucs could bring pressure from all over and finally(!!!) get their sack numbers up.

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  4. Scott you contradict yourself a lot. You mention not having Martin for the G.B. game, yet admit he’s not very good anymore. Like having him that game would’ve made a difference. You want Smith, and Hayes gone, but want to keep Licht who hasn’t given them any help up front. Our D line sucks, that’s on Licht, he hasn’t paid much attention to that unit. You’re expecting Smith to get blood from a stone. I’m for cleaning house. Licht’s record speaks for itself, he’s been out drafted by all of our South counter parts the last four years. Koetter won’t want to fire Smith, and hasn’t shown any willingness to give up play calling, which he should’ve done this year. What you see is what you’re going to get from Licht, and Koetter. I’m hoping Gruden comes back. For those of you who think we should stick with Koetter, compare their NFL resumes. It ain’t even close. GRUDEN! GRUDEN!!

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    • Surderdudes, what is your real condifence percentages Gruden will actually Coach in Tampa? I’m about 10%. Even Scott has pulled back based on this weeks FAB 5.

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  5. Scott the problem with keeping Koetter and firing Smith is, i don’t think any good defensive coordinator is coming in for maybe a one year stint if the bucs have another bad year. If your going to change the D coordinator i think you almost have to bring in a new head coach to bring in a quality coach to run the D.

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  6. Sometimes you should just say nothing. The smart thing to do is to wait until Monday. However, perhaps inviting the wrath of my friends surferdudes and matador, I will say again, I will have no objection if Koetter is given another year as HC, but not if he refuses to change the DC.

    I have no expertise selecting DCs, but I can read. The consensus is that John Fox will not return as HC in Chicago. Fox has had a top 10 defense at Carolina, Denver, and Chicago. And he has expertise coaching the 3-4 scheme. Fox would be my first choice if he is willing and available. I have no preference for a 3-4 or a 4-3 except whichever is chosen, we better have the expertise to coach it and the patience for the players to learn it. Regardless, I still want DE Bradley Chubb if he’s there in the 1st round. Lol.

    I have lesser things on my mind. Here’s what I would like to see from the last game of the season. Win or lose, I would like to see QB Jameis Winston throw 1 TD pass to break HOF Dan Marino’s record for most TD passes before age 24. He already has the record for the 1st in NFL history with consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons to start his career.

    I would also like to see WR Mike Evans get 54 yards to have 4 consecutive seasons of receiving 1000 yards or more. I expect our Bucs to play hard as usual. Words matter, so do records. Go Bucs!

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    • Macabee; right with you.

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    • Amen mac

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  7. Thanks Scott for the enjoyable read once again. I do think the Bucs best option is a 3-4 with all its talent at LB and Spence. The McCoy could be a beast at DE.

    I share the same thoughts as my PR readers above that we hoped you had insight into the coaching situation. You have been pretty hard in your stance that koetter would be fired & Gruden would be back up until this article. NOW you are backpedaling like our soft corners!!! LoL

    I would like stability at TB but I don’t think our current staff is the one that going to give the Bucs long term success. No forks & torches just a vote for Grudens return..,in my opinion he should still be the coach to begin with.

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  8. Koetter should stay only if he fires his DC and much of that coaching staff. I’m for changing to a 3-4, but I don’t see Spence in either the 3-4 or 4-3. He’s too small to play the 4-3 and not talented enough to play the 3-4 as he’s not that quick when it comes to reacting. Golhston is still aproblem whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3; he’s really just a rotational guy at best. We need two DE’s regardless of a 3-4 or a 4-3 in the very early rounds regardless of who we might sign in Free Agency. Not comfortable with your DC suggestions Scott, but I like Macabee’s suggestion on John Fox. Lastly I know we have more holes to fill than most of us thought at the end of last season. Licht has to hit on many of our draft picks in 2018; he really sucked with his selections in 2016 except for Alexander. Still need a OL, RB, Safety, CB too. Lastly, it wouldn’t bother me if Gruden was signed; the existing group isn’t worth defending that much.

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  9. I’ve been in Koetter’s corner mostly up to the last game. He either needs to be Head Coach and give up play calling or resign himself to being a OC somewhere else. It’s apparent he can’t do both. I also believe if Koetter is retained it’s apparent his play calling hasn’t put his offensive players in their best position to succeed. His use of Jackson and Martin this season is more than enough evidence that he just didn’t do well enough. He speculated at his season ending conference last year that maybe he should give up play calling and if he manages to stay on as Head Coach, it should be apparent that he needs a new voice calling the plays.

    As far as defense goes, while I’m not as down on Mike Smith as others are – he really hasn’t gotten enough help or talent to run a competent defense, you have to look at the last two games at how much better the defense has played with 2nd and 3rd team talent to understand that it’s really not totally Mike Smith that is to blame. That said, I think Mike Smith was also somewhat responsible for some of the talent that we currently have on the team. GM’s don’t operate without input and I believe Mike Smith’s fingerprints are on some of the defensive talent we have picked up. Whether we could have picked up better players or not is something probably only Jason Licht knows.

    Finally, it’s clear that we can’t fix every issue in one year. Changing to a 3-4 might help from a talent standpoint, but it’s a new scheme and new terminology so there will be growing pains. With only 16 games in a season, losing 3 games while the defense figures things out is not going to help the current coaching staff make it to season 4.

    I don’t know what the answer is for the Bucs, I hate having new coaches every two years, but I’m not sure I see a coaching staff that I believe in either. Bottom line is that this team SHOULD have done better this year and it did not. You can blame injuries for some of that – but coaching failed us more often than not. Maybe it is time for a change.

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  10. 12/24/2017 – Scott Reynold’s 2-Point Conversion

    “STATEMENT 1: Gruden Returns In 2018
    Notice how this is under the “Big Statement” section rather than under the “Bold Prediction” department?

    That’s right. This is a statement, not a prediction anymore.”

    QUESTION 2: What Happened Before Halftime With Koetter’s Clock Management?

    But the biggest factor in my opinion came in the first half when the Bucs had to settle for three field goals in the red zone.

    Yes, Koetter did stink in the red zone, and that’s been a recurring theme over the past two years, but in 2017 especially as the Bucs’ points per game is just over 20 points per game. On Sunday, Koetter’s offense scored just 19 points.”

    PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Finish 4-12 And Koetter Will Be Fired”

    12/29/2017 – Scott Reynold’s Fab 5

    “I don’t know if the 9-7 season a year ago was the anomaly under Koetter, or if the double-digit losing record this year is? I doubt the Glazers do, either.”

    “Yet outside of Gruden, I don’t know if there is any sure-fire upgrade over Koetter out there this year.”

    “After two years I don’t know what the Bucs exactly have in Koetter. And again, I doubt the Glazers do, either.” “If there are some significant changes to the defensive staff – except for linebackers coach Mark Duffner, who has done an admirable job and deserves to stay on – I could see how Koetter could survive for one more year.”

    Wow. It appears like Scott’s special friend lil’ Birdy Licht tweeted in Scott’s ear, and all of the sudden the most anti-Koetter source of covering the team (and deservedly so, the team has lost 5 straight and is 4-11) is trying his best mea culpa of ‘Sure I’ve been calling for you to be fired and replaced by Gruden for 3 months but that was only a statement that it would happen, other than my many criticisms about your poor game management and limitations as a coach I never meant you should actually be fired from it.’

    That’ll be sure to go over well in the locker room next year.

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    • Dude, you beat me to quoting those exact quotes myself. Scott’s been riding Gruden’s jock all year and I hardly find it a coincidence that he SUDDENLY walks back on all of it when it’s heard that Koetter is coming back.

      I wish I could be in the room myself if Reynolds and Koetter meets up. Scott gambled and lost big like I thought he would when you don’t put yourself on the team’s pulse and instead make conjectures. Learn your lesson Scott! Sources!

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  11. Definitely disagree that there aren’t other candidates that can do a better job. I’ve mentioned Harbaugh on several occasions and think he’s 10x the coach Dirk has shown himself to be. I use the same logic with my Bucs as I did with my Gators. Why keep an offensive minded HC when the offense is trash/unproductive. With all the tools we have I’m sure Jeff Fisher could stumble through the season with similar results. You don’t fire a coach bc “well Im not sure what else we can get” you fire a coach bc he is not doing his job. After 3 seasons with more weapons each year this offense should be far more productive than it is. Mike Smith is getting a lot of the blame this year but I don’t think its all his fault. His defense gave up massive yardage all last year but were able to generate more of a pass rush and got timely turnovers. We added a lazy 320 DT that PR ranted and raved about but he hasn’t produced. We added absolutely nothing to CB bc Jason told us VHIII was “turning the corner” and the list goes on. Nothing at DE bc “man you should Spence tearing up camp” when the only thing he tore up when the games counted was his shoulder for the second year in a row. Mike Smith didn’t forget how to coach defense in one season, he was able to maximize a group last year that didn’t have the same fortune as last season regarding sacks and TOs. Definitely not saying he should stay but I wasn’t overly impressed with last season, we made some plays but this defense was flawed last year to anyone that chose to see it. I use my eye test when I make my statements not the fluff this site pumps out to cloud our judgment. Retain Dirk so we can continue to trend downward as an offense for the 4th season in a row? I hope not.

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    • There is some truth here. Fab1 feels like some serious backtracking from the 2-pt. conversion piece.

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      • Scott could have just admitted he received information that he was wrong and stood on his previous critiques about Koetter, many of which are very reasonable.

        Scott could have pointed to things he was hopeful Koetter would improve on and how to get there, he could have discussed how the OC/DC’s of New England were great candidates that he still stood by but the Glazers were rumored to be interested in one more year with the current regime.

        But instead Scott spun like a top only 5 days after guaranteeing that Koetter would be fired, nary a mention about why or how he came to such a different conclusion. It’s dishonest and disrespectful to his readers, many of whom stand up for him when he’s been criticized in the past.

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        • Amen yet again. Couldn’t have said it better myself devasher.

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    • Gotta say Fab1 gives some excuses for Koetter that I don’t think hold up. Was the team hit with a sizeable amount of misfortune? Sure. Did Koetter make the appropriate adjustments both throughout the season and during games. Not ever close. We have watched conservative decision making, erratic play-calling, and stubborn gameplan approaches doom this team to loss after loss.

      Remember when in 2016 the defense “turned the page” and was allowed to speak up and communicate with each other and adjust the scheme to their strengths? Anyone wanna tell me why 2017 felt like deja vu only this time taking even LONGER to come to said realizations? Why did it take 9 weeks to start pressing our corners? To stop running stunts and slants that took the front out of the play? Why did we not pick up where we left off from 2016?

      I’ve always felt good coaching is getting the most out of your personnel. Building a scheme around them rather than forcing them into a scheme. Lovie did not do that. Mike Smith has failed to do that. Koetter has been given exactly what he asked for and has still failed to get results.

      I feel this staff excels best at teaching. They are great for instilling fundamentals and building a foundation. What we now need is the staff that will take that to the next level.

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  12. Ok.
    Firing Smith for a guy like Horton – who has NEVER had an elte defense – makes zero sense. Smith has had better success in the past than Horton at almost every stop. Scott made a lot of excuses as to why Horton didn’t succeed in Tennese and why he was fired after one year stints TWICE – but doesn’t afford the same level of excuse for Smith who not only was not given any aditional pass rushers this offseason, but lost the only sem–mediocre ones he had to injury.

    I completely agree that Koetter should only be fired if Gruden wants the job. but godd luck keping Grudeb’s camp quiet about it if he’s offered the job and then declines it. Talk about awkward. I think the same should apply to Smith – if you’re going to fire him it HAS to be for an elite level DC that has had a top 5 defense before. Nothing less.

    BUT – I agree with the comment above that finding an elite DC to come in if Koetter is granted another year is going to be hard without the guarantee of a longer term commitment.

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  13. I said from the start I did not think Koetter is head coach material I knew him well from his days here at ASU, Gruden has a resume which includes 3 division champs and a sb winner, I know he was successful in Oakland don’t know the exact record. This is not even a debate how could it be when comparing Gruden to a “hasn’t done squat coach” in Koetter? Gruden does well with vets and I would consider by next yr we have vets at key positions like Qb, WR, DT, LB O line etc he would bring a fire and tenacity this team would relish esp Winston I think they would be peas in a pod together.

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    • It’s been awhile Jon Gruden; now that we know he isn’t coming, hope to hear from you again. Where have you been?

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  14. This one is tough for me as I do like Koetter and I think Jameis can benefit from constant stability, but as some stated above, there would have to be other things in place. Mike Smith will clearly have to go and I really like Mac’s idea of getting John fox in there. Great idea Mac!
    Koetter would also need to give up play calling. His play calling in the red zone has been awful for the last two years for sure. That was he can focus on improving things more on his end of the time management side of things. He’s had a hell of a lot of things going against him as well. Jameis getting injured for a good chunk of the season, the hurricane moving opening week and eliminating the buy week, the shear amount of injury’s to guys late in the season, and just plain bad luck. I mean how many times have we fumbled and lost it , only to watch the other team fumble a ball right back into their hands for a TD or something.
    Heck we’ve lost 6 games this year by 5 or less, that’s just crazy. And most being given up by a late drive that you can almost set your watch to every week by the opposing team.
    I’d like to see Koetter and Licht get another year if Gruden isn’t the guy , and Only Gruden would I make the change for. Although the rumors I hear of Gruden trying to get back with Bruce Allen again make my ears bleed. Bruce Allen was a god awful GM and would be an immediate deal breaker for me.
    Jameis has been fantastic since he’s been back and I think we can expect more of that next year if he stays healthy. And that’s with 3 starting lineman out and a still minimalist running game. He needs to work on his pocket presence this off season and work on those fumbles, the other stuff has all improved. I think we should move on from Desean, not for his fault, but the offense is running better when he’s not out there. Do I think he goes any where, no.
    Should be interesting how this one turns out but I think the Bucs will play their tales off and lose by a single score on a late Saints drive if it goes as the script has all season.

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  15. You mentioned three coaches the team has quit on since firing Gruden but you left out one very important coach in theat equation.
    Jon Gruden himself.
    As I recall, after Monte Kiffen announced he wouldn’t return to the Bucs the next year, the Bucs, who were 9-3 at the time, rolled over and played dead by losing four straight, including the final game against probably one of the worst QB’s ever in the NFL and a third or fourth string RB.
    The Bucs defense has been the overwhelming reason the Bucs have lost this year and Koetter has had no responsibility in building or operating it.
    If everyone is so trigger happy to fire someone, then I would have no problem firing Mike Smith. I was never sold on him to begin with.
    Licht would be next.
    Although he had been much better at drafting than the previous two GMs, getting a C instead of an F isn;t really that much to brag about.
    His second round draft picks have been pretty much a disaster except for Donovan Smith who is a much better LT than a lot of you goobers think.

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    • We always seem to agree on football related topics. If not Jon Gruden (mostly because of the “juice” his hiring would inject in the fandom), keeping Koetter and bringing in an entirely new defensive staff and maybe even some new special teams coaches is probably the right direction. I too don’t think Donovan Smith is anywhere near as bad as he’s portrayed; although he did struggle a bit against the Panthers. The O-line’s problem is in the middle.

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  16. Nice article Scott… I don’t envy the position that the Glazers are in on Monday. I’m a fan of consistency, but what other names could be out there by weeks end? There always seems to be a big surprise at the end of every coaching carousel. As far as the 3-4 change… I could see that turning into a lost season of acclamation for the players on that, even though it makes sense on paper. Happy New Year’s to you, Mark, Trevor and staff and keep up the great work in ’18!

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  17. Horse my feeling on Gruden is about 90% he returns to coach the Bucs. I don’t see him wanting to leave for another city with his son entering his senior year. This is his home. I think he’s had his fill of broadcasting, and at his age, it’s now or never. The guy is a competitor, it’s his passion, said it himself a few weeks ago. Gruden has never said it publicly, but he’s heard it forever, he won with Dungy’s team. I think that statement sticks in his craw. Should he take over a 4-12 Buc team to winning seasons, and eventually a superbowl, no one will be saying that ever again. It would also put him in that HOF category, don’t think that doesn’t matter to him. It’s ultimately in the hands of the Glazer’s if he comes back. We’ll have our answers soon enough.

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  18. Come on PR report the latest news. The Glazers have named Dirk Koetter as the 2018 Bucs head coach.

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    • Mac, I haven’t posted anything because I am reading this late in the day and don’t want to bust anybody’s bubble.

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  19. Stupid idea. Make Gerald McCoy a 2 gap defender? His strength is his get off and penetration skills. Making him a two-gap defender negates that. That’s just not using players to their strength. Hense, the reason why we are where we are always.

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  20. Finally a balanced assessment. Good analysis. I prefer Koetter but would root for Gruden. All teams in today’s NFL are flawed. jo

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  21. Thank God Koetter is coming back. Maybe PR can hit on a 2 point conversion because ever since they started up the Gruden hype the articles have been unreadable trash, coming from a life long PR fan

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