New coordinator. Different scheme. Possibly five new starters, plus one playing a different position. Yes, changes have come to the vaunted Tampa-Two.
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 Phillips 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
Brings size to the Bucs' linebacker position. Front runner to start on the strongside.
Making the difficult move from strong safety to weakside linebacker. Can he do it?
Showed instinctive play filling in for Derrick Brooks as a rookie. May need time to returning midseason from knee surgery.
Solid special-teamer has filled in at weakside and middle linebacker. But seemingly has been passed by Hayes.
Since coming on as a third-rounder, has been relegated to special teams. Gets his first real chance to crack the lineup on strongside.
Vet filled in at both outside spots in '08. But is down the depth chart and a longshot this time around.
Will try to pull off a Shelton Quarles: CFL refugee to reserve OLB and special teamer.
Bigger defensive tackles could lead to bigger numbers for undersized middle man.
Brought in to anchor coverage units, back up Ruud in the middle.
Journeyman middle 'backer must have a huge camp to stick.