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.
"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
“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.”