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Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Have No Special Question Marks

Tom EdringtonSenior Writer IMay 22, 2009

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 21: Running back Clifton Smith #22 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fakes a handoff on a kick return against the San Diego Chargers at Raymond James Stadium on December 21, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

This 2009 version of the Tampa Bay Buccanners is a giant question mark—with one exception—special teams.

Take this as fact and take it as a statement by special teams coordinator and associate head coach Rich Bisaccia—his guys WILL perform.

Bisaccia's special teams were a huge catalyst for the Bucs in 2008. His unit ranked seventh in the league, fourth in the NFC and was the best in the NFC South.

"I'm an imitator," Bisaccia said during a session with Tampa area high school coaches.  "We steal stuff. I will find something that works and make it better. The majority of head coaches cannot do what I do."

Bisaccia invented the term "We-Fense." It's already been borrowed from him by head coach Raheem Morris, but make no mistake, it's Bisaccia's term for how his special teams have to play.

To understand the techniques and how important positioning is with special teams play, one need only spend a half hour watching film with Bisaccia.

"Look at this," he said as he showed special teams film.  "This guy is one-yard out of position and look what happens...." he rolled the video, the out-of-position player, out of position by three feet, leaves a gap and the return man is off and running.

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"With the speed in the NFL," Bisaccia pointed out, "one small mistake like that and you can have a guy taking it all the way."

Bisaccia emphasizes technique, rip moves to defeat blockers, quick breakdown to position for the tackle and force the return man into the awaiting tacklers. "If you're even with the return man, he's gone."

Bisaccia also has an eye for special teams talent. Special teams are the free agent and late round draft pick's opportunity for entry into the NFL.

Take Buc Pro-Bowl return man Clifton Smith, for example.

"Jon Gruden kept trying to run him off. He said he (Smith) was too small. I said, "give him to me," Bisaccia recounted.

Smith, a free agent with the Bucs in 2008 was released in the final cut then resigned to the practice squad. Bisaccia rescued him the the anonymity of the practice squad and he was activated on Oct. 25 of last season.

Perhaps one of the greatest moves ever in franchise history. All Smith did was set a single game franchise return mark (259 yards) against Kansas City.

He was the first Buc to return a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in a single season, he was the second Buc rookie to make the Pro Bowl—Warrick Dunn in '97 was the other.

Smith is the first Buccaneer return man to make the Pro Bowl.

All of that thanks to Bisaccia's eye.

Bisaccia's units are a reflection of his experience and personality.  He comes from a solid Italian blue-collar family. "I'd be in construction if I hadn't gotten into coaching," he said.

His roots were humble: he attended tiny Yankton College in South Dakota. He found his way eventually to the SEC (South Carolina and Ole Miss) and the ACC (Clemson) where he learned his craft.

He's been with the Bucs since 2002 and survived the Gruden-purge and is firmly entrenched now and has the ultimate confidence of Morris.

He should.

His units have performed and performed well. And the discovery of Smith, well, that's the ultimate resume-builder.

Smith, like his coach, is a blue-collar football workman.

As are the rest of the special teamers. They do the dirty work and don't get noticed unless they make a mistake.

Sure there are questions about this team, those questions are on offense and defense.  But when it comes to the special teams—there are no questions at all—only answers.

Good ones.  

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