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Frazier: Defensive Foundation in Place

Posted Jan 17, 2014

With a pair of All-Pros at key positions in Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, the Buccaneers' defense already contains several of the most important pieces for the system Leslie Frazier will run

  • DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David are All-Pro talents at two key positions in the Bucs' new defensive scheme
  • CB Darrelle Revis will also be an important component in Tampa Bay's defensive success in 2014
  • Though a strong foundation is in place, Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier knows some additional pieces are needed
When Tony Dungy arrived at One Buccaneer Place in 1996, he famously told Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks that they would thrive in his system.  He made it clear to the two young defenders that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new defense would be built around them, and that they would need to become his leaders on the field.

Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David may soon hear something similar from Leslie Frazier.

McCoy and David are not Sapp and Brooks – heck, even One Buccaneer Place isn't the same place it was in '96 – and they don't seek to be.  The current Buccaneer defenders are trying to make their own names in the NFL, and they're off to a very good start, as evidenced by their twin selections to the Associated Press All-Pro First Team in 2013.  But McCoy and David do play the same positions that Sapp and Brooks manned so effectively during the Buccaneers' defensive glory days of the late '90s and early '00s, and they're about to be unleashed the way Dungy did with his two future Hall of Famers in 1996.

Frazier is the Buccaneers' new defensive coordinator under Lovie Smith, who was the linebackers coach in Tampa under Dungy and is now the occupant of the head coach's office at the new One Buc.  It is far too simple to say that Smith and Frazier are going to install a carbon copy of the "Tampa Two" defense Dungy and company made famous in Tampa; Smith's defense has evolved through the years, as is obviously necessary to stay ahead of the NFL curve.  But there are certainly core similarities, as Frazier noted on Wednesday when he met the Bay area press for the first time, and one of those is the inherit importance of two positions: three-technique tackle and weakside linebacker.

And, as Frazier also noted, both of those spots are in good hands on the defense he recently inherited.

-- Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy and Darrelle Revis give the Bucs All-Pro/Pro Bowl talent at all three levels of the defense
“Those two positions are critical to the success of this defense," said Frazier.  "Gerald, now going to his second Pro Bowl … I’m really excited about getting a chance to work with him.  In this system, without that component, it’s hard to be successful in this defense. You need a dominant three-technique. Gerald is obviously well on his way to being that. The accolades of being named a Pro Bowl player for the second consecutive year tells you that he’s on his way.

"Then [you have] a guy like Lavonte, who has really come along. There aren’t a lot of things he can’t do on the football field. I look forward to getting a chance to work with him. Those two components, along with the pass rusher and a corner that can tackle as well as cover, that really helps to solidify this defense. You need a Mike linebacker who can function, as well, but we have two pieces in place with Gerald and with Lavonte, that gives you a chance now to add some other areas. You’re not starting from ground zero with this defense, which is exciting.”

The good news extends beyond those two positions.  A "corner that can tackle as well as cover?"  Check.  While Darrelle Revis is best known for his unmatched cover skills – the genesis of his "Revis Island" nickname – he is probably underrated as a tackler.  Among all cornerbacks who played at least 75% of their team's snaps against running plays last year, Revis ranked seventh in the NFL in run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Darrelle Revis is a great player in our league – a great corner and has been for a number of years now," said Frazier, dismissing the notion that Revis' style of play wouldn't fit in the Bucs' new system.  "As I mentioned, I had a chance to watch some common opponents and see some Tampa tape and he’s a terrific player without question. There is always room in any system for great players. We’re going to do all we can to maximize his talents and utilize his gifts. He is going to be one of the key guys to our success without question. We’ll do whatever we have to do to maximize his talents. He’s a great player.”

The Buccaneers may also have that fourth component Frazier mentions, the top-notch pass-rusher, in fourth-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who returned from a 2012 season lost to injury to post six sacks in 2013.  They may also choose to add to their stable of quarterback-hunters in the months to come; if the Bucs' new defense is going to mirror the strengths that made the Sapp-Brooks crew so effective, they'll need to be able to get pressure from the front four.

“It’s extremely important in our league today, with the way the league has really become a pass-happy league for the most part," said Frazier. "The numbers, when it comes to offensive statistics, are off the charts, so you need someone who can rush the pass without always having to bring an extra guy. You need that guy who can beat an offensive tackle or, if they want to chip with a back, he can find a way to get to the quarterback, if you want to have a great defense. In this system, like any system, you need that one guy if you can find him. They’re sometimes rare to find, but we had one [in Minnesota] in Jared Allen, Lovie had one in [Julius] Peppers in Chicago and it really makes a difference in our league if you can find a guy who can rush the passer without you having to blitz all the time.”

The Buccaneers defense made some clear strides in 2013.  It's just as clear, however, that there is work to be done on a unit that finished 17th in yards allowed, 21st in points allowed and 22nd in sacks per pass play.  Some of that will be scheme, but some of it will involve new personnel.  Fortunately, there is a strong base in place for Smith and Frazier to build upon.

"There are obviously some things that we will need to add along the way, but there’s a good foundation," said Frazier.  "It’s the ultimate team game, so you do need those other pieces in order to get the defense to that elite level. That will be the challenge ahead of us this offseason, whether it be through the draft or free agency, to fill in those other pieces and get the defense where we want it. But we have a great starting point with those two pieces, for sure.”