Defense: The Past and Future of the Buccaneers

You’ve heard it a million times, “defenses win championships.” If you believe that, you should also believe that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a prime position to win a championship under their new head coach, Lovie Smith.

Coach Smith, primarily a defense man, was hired in part because of that reputation and also because the Buccaneers are looking to replicate the past rather than move into the future. The last two coaches to come to Tampa have had plans of reinvention and shaping the Buccaneers of tomorrow, but as we’ve seen, both coaches ultimately failed to bring a positive change. The obvious next step is to try reverting; focus on what has worked in the past.

Lovie Smith offers the Buccaneers a chance to refocus the team on a structure that eventually won them a Super Bowl. The Buccaneers, at their peak, were known for having one of the best defenses in the NFL. That defense is credited to former head coach Tony Dungy, who installed the famous “Tampa 2” defense. During Dungy’s reign as head coach in Tampa, Smith worked under him as linebackers coach. He helped develop the Tampa 2 and was a part of the Buccaneers defense when it was at it’s best. For the Buccaneers, this is almost like promoting from within, even though Smith has not been with the organization since 2000. I’m not suggesting that the Tampa 2 will necessarily be in the defensive plan, rather that a cohesive defense will likely be the main goal for the Buccaneers going into the 2014 season.

In addition, the team also brought in Hardy Nickerson, former Buccaneers linebacker, who played under Dungy. Nickerson will be the new linebackers coach, a position he previously held with the Chicago Bears under Smith. The Buccaneers have defensive weapons: linebacker Lavonte David, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Derrelle Revis to name a few. With Smith. the defensive unit will have an experienced coach to guide them and get them in sync.

Another big part of the Buccaneers’ defensive picture for next season is the hiring of defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier. Frazier was most recently the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings where he had mixed success. In his three full seasons as head coach, he struggled and the team failed without any offense to speak of, other than running back Adrian Peterson. They also struggled with defense as time progressed, which is worrisome to Buccaneers fans, wondering why he got this job.  But that’s not all of Frazier’s story. Frazier, like Smith, is a defense man.  Before taking over as head coach, he had a very successful run as defensive coordinator for the Vikings. Under his tutelage, the Vikings defense really gelled and they averaged 94.8 rushing yards allowed per game during his seven years with the team.  He might not be head coach material, but I’m confident he knows how to run a successful defense. History shows that he’s at his best when he’s focused solely on defense, so I’m cautiously optimistic that he has what it takes to whip them into shape.

For the first time in forever, the Buccaneers have coaches who are defense minded with proven records. I’m glad, that on the defensive side at least, they aren’t putting their faith in people who have only worked at the collegiate level. Unproven men in unfamiliar roles is not who you want as key members of the coaching staff for a struggling team. The Buccaneers will be prepared to face next season with a dominant defense and that’s the first step to becoming a better overall team.

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