Season of Change For Bucs Defense

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Season of Change For Bucs Defense
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

New coordinator. Different scheme. Possibly five new starters, plus one playing a different position. Yes, changes have come to the vaunted Tampa-Two. 

Gone: Monte kiffin,the Bucs' defensive coordinator since arriving with Tony Dungy in 1996. His undersized defensive tackles are being phased out by larger run stoppers. The Bucs will also be less reliant on the Tampa-2, and play more man in the secondary. Joe Barry returns as linebackers coach after running the Lions' defense the past two seasons. End Kevin Carter, tackle Jovan Haye linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June and cornerback Phillip Buchanon were not resigned.

In: Jim Bates. Kiffin's successor is implementing his changes, but he was unable to cover for a lack of talent in his last two NFL stops as coordinator in Denver and Green Bay. Can he cover up the Bucs' defensive flaws as well as Kiffin?
Little was added in free agency (linebacker Angelo Crowell), but rookies Roy Miller and Kyle Moore will step into roles.

Positional Outlook
Defensive line
Once an area of tremendous strength, the defensive line is undergoing a transition under new coordinator Jim Bates.
Bates prefers large tackles who can hold up centers and guards versus the run, as opposed to the undersized, single-gap tackles preferred by longtime coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Steady veteran Chris Hovan(6-2, 295) is not an ideal fit for the scheme, but holds his ground at nose guard. The run defense suffered substantially down the stretch of 2008 while Hovan was played banged up and missed time. But its just who lines up next to him is the largest question.
Fourth-round pick Roy Miller has the size (6-1, 310) the Bucs want, and fits the teams youth movement under coach Raheem Morris.The Bucs would love Miller to win the job in camp, but until then the job falls to underachieving Ryan Sims. Sims was the Bucs' third tackle in '08, and has a track record of struggling as a starter, going back to his days as a No. 1 pick of the Chiefs. Sims also has the size (6-4, 315), but his stamina and ability are best suited as a reserve.
The situation is similar at end, where the Bucs hope third-round pick Kyle Moore can beat out another former Chief, Jimmy Wilkerson, at left end.
Wilkerson has a career year last season with 5 sacks, but his versatility to play end and tackle in passing situation make him and ideal fit as a fifth lineman to spell starters at multiple positions.
Right end Gaines Adams faces a make-or-break season. After being chosen with the fourth pick of the '07 draft, Adams teased the Bucs with 5.5 sacks as a rookie--but looked much improved over the second half of the season. But after posting just 6.5 sacks in '08 and being nearly invisible at times, the Bucs need Adams to step up. Adams has yet to develop a pass-rush move outside of the speed rush, and sometimes still struggles with play recognition, and his slight build.
End Stylez G. White has 13 sacks the last two seasons and will continue work as a third-down pass rusher and spell both ends, but other depth is non-existent. Former fourth-pick Dre Moore and Greg Peterson will compete for addition jobs inside.

Probable Depth chart
DE   Wilkerson      Moore
DT   Hovan           Peterson        Moore
DT   Sims             Miller             Bradwell
DE   Adams          White

Player Outlook
DE
Gaines Adams
Former No. 1 pick being counted on to be Bucs' primary source of pass rush. Needs to show up big in 2009.
Jimmy Wilkerson
Versatile veteran helps the Bucs at end, tackle, special teams. May begin season as starter at left end.
Kyle Moore
Bucs would love for the rookie to be starting at left end--the sooner the better.
Stylez G. White
Has proven not to be a starter, but a reliable third-down rusher. Needs to rekindle pass rush numbers of 2007 (eight sacks).

DT
Chris Hovan

Getting long in the tooth, but Bucs run defense suffered when his injuries mounted in 2008.
Ryan Sims
Resigned in the offseason. Best suited to be a third tackle, but will start until Roy Miller is ready. An enigma who plays well in spurts.
Roy Miller
Third-round pick should be starting soon if his skills translate to the NFL level.
Greg Peterson
Showed ability early in his rookie season of 2007, but invisible and inactive since then.
Dre Moore
Last year's fourth round pick was a disappointment, showing up to camp out of shape. But the door is open for him to contribute.
Chris Bradwell
Bucs thought enough of him from last season's camp to bring him to camp for a second look.

Linebackers
One thing is for sure here: change is in full effect.
The Bucs released strongside starter Cato June and future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks in the offseason, opening spots at both outside positions.
Former Bill Angelo Crowell was brought to compete with third-year man Quincy Black for strongside duties, but just who will replace Brooks on the weakside is up in the air.
The Bucs are experimenting with strong safety Jermaine Phillips in Brooks' old spot. Phillips, resigned in the offseason, is coming off consecutive seasons shortened by broken forearms, but has been the Bucs' run enforcer and is a physical clone of Brooks (6-2, 220). If Philips can make the transition, it would allow the Bucs to bring second-year man Geno Hayes back slowly from knee surgery, and use youngster Savvy Piscitelli at strong safety.
Should Philips struggle, Hayes and Adam Hayward would compete for the spot. Hayward's versatility (he can play all three spots) makes him valuable to the Bucs, while Hayes, another Brooks clone physically, showed playmaking ability while filling in as a rookie.
Barrett Ruud returns to anchor the middle. Ruud will have to take on more of a leadership role with Brooks' ushering out, as he could potentially find himself surrounded by two starters with zero career starts between them. Ruud, however, is undersized and could benefit from improved tackle play, and the new scheme. Late-season injuries to Ruud and the Bucs' tackles was a major reason for the team's defensive collapse late in '08.
Special teamer Niko Koutivides, added in the offseason, provides additional depth in the middle, and veteran Matt McCoy remains a possibility.

Probable Depth chart
OLB Crowell          Black              Johnson
MLB Ruud             Hayward         Koutivides      Wilson
OLB Philips            Hayes            McCoy

Player Outlook
OLB
Angelo Crowell
Brings size to the Bucs' linebacker position. Front runner to start on the strongside.
Jermaine Philips
Making the difficult move from strong safety to weakside linebacker. Can he do it?
Geno Hayes
Showed instinctive play filling in for Derrick Brooks as a rookie. May need time to returning midseason from knee surgery.
Adam Hayward
Solid special-teamer has filled in at weakside and middle linebacker. But seemingly has been passed by Hayes.
Quincy Black
Since coming on as a third rounder, has been relegated to special teams. Gets his first real chance to crack the lineup on strongside.
Matt McCoy
Vet filled in at both outside spots in '08. But is down the depth chart and a longshot this time around.
Jamall Johnson
Will try to pull off a Shelton Quarles: CFL refugee to reserve OLB and special teamer.

 

MLB
Barrett Ruud

Bigger defensive tackles could lead to bigger numbers for undersized middle man.
Niko Koutivides
Brought in to anchor coverage units, back up Ruud in the middle.
Rod Wilson
Journeyman middle 'backer must have a huge camp to stick.

Secondary
Ronde Barber returns for his 13th season with the Bucs. The last remaining starter from the Bucs' Super Bowl championship, Barber no longer is the playmaker he was early in his career--Kiffin often used Barber as a blitzing corner earlier in his career. But the veteran will be counted on more as a leader in the secondary, with cornerback Phillip Buchanon gone and Philips potentially at linebacker. Barber, a perfect fit for the Kiffin's Cover-2, will be asked to play more man coverage prefered by Bates.
Around Barber is youth. Last seasons' No. 1 pick, Aqib Talib will take over for Buchanon at corner, Piscitelli will begin his first season as a stater at strong safety, third-year man Tenard Jackson returns at free safety, and former free agent Elbert Mack is the front runner for the nickle job.
The Bucs have enough confidence in Talib that they told Buchanon in the offseaon that if he resigned, he'd be the third corner. Talib played well as the Bucs' nickleback in 2008, and the Bucs' brass thinks his future is very bright.
Strong safety Savvy Piscitelli struggled at times in what was essentially his rookie season after being injured early in 2007. The Bucs missed Philllips' run-stuffing ability once Piscitelli took over in Week 12, but the Bucs love Piscitelli's athleticism and play-making ability. A season under his belt should help.
Free safety Tanard Jackson was sensation as a rookie on 2007, and has started every game his frst two NFL seasons. The Bucs would like to see him develop as more of a ballhawk (one pick in '09), but he remains steady in a secondary undergoing changes. 
The third corner is the Bucs' biggest question mark. Elbert Mack played some as a rookie free agent after injuries struck the secondary, but is largely untested. The only other options are special teamer Torrie Cox, who missed last season with a knee injury, 2008 practice squad member Kyle Arrington, and seventh-round pick E.J. Biggers.
Former starter Will Allen is a top special teamer and has started at both safety spots. Allen, however, struggles over long stretches with mental lapses. Special teamer Donte Nicholson goes to camp as the fourth safety.

CB  Talib              Cox                Arrington
CB  Barber            Mack              Biggers
SS Picitelli            Nicholson
FS Jackson           Allen

Player Outlook
CB
Ronde Barber

The end is near, but the Bucs still need him at a thin spot.
Aqib Talib
Impressed Bucs with play in nickle. Takes over as starter and looks like could future no. 1 corner.
Elbert Mack
Largely untested second-year man is the front runner for the nickle corner job.
Torrie Cox
After another knee injury, must have a big camp to avoid being passed over by younger players.
Kyle Arrington
Former free agent gets a shot after season on practice squad, has a chance at fourth corner job.
E.J. Biggers
Backup jobs are open, so a solid camp will earn him a job. Has impressive speed. (4.38).

 

S
Tanard Jackson

Solid free safety can take step in '09 to be more of a leader.
Savvy Piscitelli
Must prove he's learned from 2008 and become more of a run-stopping force.
Will Allen
Top special teamer has started a both safety spots. Provides adequate depth.
Donte Nicholson
Fourth safety job is his with a decent camp. But strictly a special teamer.

Specialists
Punter Josh Bidwell is among the league's best, and long snapper Andrew Economos has been solid in his first full-time job after bouncing around for a few years.
Kicker Matt Bryant is coming off a tough season in which his kicking was solid (32 for 38 FGs), but in which he battled the anguish of the passing of his son. The Bucs brought in former Jet Mike Nugent to compete in camp, but mainly for the strong leg Nugent has for kickoffs.
Rookie Clifton Smith proved to be a dynamic returner in his rookie season, and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. Smith averaged 27 yard per kick return, and 14 per punt return once taking the job over the return duties in midseason. He is a threat on every return.
Koutivides, Wilkerson, Allen, Hayward, Hayes, Cox and Black anchor solid coverage units.

K   Bryant    Nugent
P   Bidwell
KR  Smith
PR  Smith

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