With free agency and the draft looming, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may soon be adding pieces to their defensive line in pursuit of a more productive pass rush in 2018. First though, they have found the man who will mold that group into a strong unit, agreeing to terms with former Arizona Cardinals assistant Brentson Buckner to be their new defensive line coach.
Buckner is the only new face on the Buccaneers' 2018 staff under Dirk Koetter, replacing Jay Hayes, who held the position the previous two years. Tampa Bay did re-assign some responsibilities on the offensive side, promoting Skyler Fulton to wide receivers coach so that Todd Monken could focus solely on his offensive coordinator duties.
Buckner spent the past five seasons in the same position for the Cardinals, helping to produce outstanding pass rush and run defense results. During that span (2013-17), Arizona's defense racked up 203 sacks, tied for the seventh-most in the NFL and peaking with a league-best 48 sacks in 2016. In that same timeframe, the Cardinals allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game (93.8) and fourth-lowest per-carry average (3.81). With Buckner on staff, the Cardinals also ranked third in total yards allowed (324.7 per game) and sixth in points allowed (20.7 per game).
The Buccaneers finished 32nd in the NFL in sacks in 2017, with 22, but were tied for 9th with 38 QB takedowns in 2016 with much the same cast of lineman. Tampa Bay's defensive front is anchored by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has been named to the last six Pro Bowls, and also includes 2016 second-round pick Noah Spence, a promising edge-rusher who had 5.5 sacks as a rookie before missing most of last season with a shoulder injury.
Buckner and Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht worked together in Arizona in 2013, when Licht was serving as the team's vice president of player personnel under General Manager Steve Keim. The Cardinals hired Buckner after he had spent three seasons (2010-12) working as a training camp intern with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had begun his coaching career on the high school level in Charlotte just two years after finishing his own long and successful NFL playing career.
A second-round pick out of Clemson, Buckner played 12 years in the league with Pittsburgh (1994-96), Cincinnati (1997), San Francisco (1998-2000) and Carolina (2001-05), appearing in 174 games with 125 starts. His career totals include 324 tackles, 31.0 sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.
Buckner also has extensive postseason experience, playing on six different playoff teams and helping the Cardinals qualify in 2014 and 2015. He had 3.5 sacks in 15 postseason games and played in Super Bowl XXX with Pittsburgh and Super Bowl XXXVIII with Carolina.