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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Crash Course

Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin begins the process of instructing the men who will become the teachers of his defense


It may take a little extra work for Monte Kiffin to break in his new assistants, but that's something he has never shied away from

Monte Kiffin, who has probably watched more film in his lifetime than Roger Ebert, has spent a few extra days this February in the screening room. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive coordinator has put in longer hours than most winters in defensive-staff meetings, too, and marked up a few more chalkboards.

All part of integrating new coaches Joe Barry (linebackers) and Mike Tomlin (defensive backs) into the system. For the first time since he joined the Buccaneers in 1996, Kiffin has lost some members of his coaching staff, as Herman Edwards took the head job with the New York Jets and Lovie Smith went to St. Louis to become the Rams' defensive coordinator. That means extra work for Kiffin this winter, teaching the men who will teach the players.

But we're talking about Monte Kiffin here, so that's like asking a fish to do a little extra swimming on nights and weekends. He spent a few days this past weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he didn't leave until Saturday and he spent more of the preceding time at One Buccaneer Place than the cleaning staff.

"We're just going over all of our different coverages and defenses for our new coaches, getting them all on the same page," said Kiffin, taking a short break from – you guessed it – watching cut-ups on his office monitor. "It's a learning period for these coaches. Then we go through the cut-ups from last year, by defenses and formations."

As has been sufficiently pointed out, Barry and Tomlin were hired largely because they are considered excellent teachers. First, however, they must digest the information they will later regurgitate. Kiffin appears to be taking the crash-course method to this task, running Barry and Tomlin through hours of film study on end. The newest members of the staff are making great strides, Kiffin reports.

"They're doing very well," he said. "They're very sharp guys. They're both really into it. They really seem to be picking it up without any trouble."

Also in on these meetings is veteran defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who has been on the staff for Kiffin's entire tenure as coordinator. Marinelli is considered one of the finest assistants in the league and, as Kiffin's last mate standing, has been invaluable in the assimilation period for Barry and Tomlin.

"This is the first time in five years we've had to deal with this," said Kiffin. "We'd been together for a long time. It's new for all these guys, but Rod is very important. Rod has been here for five years, so I have to lean on him a lot. He is just outstanding, and it helps the other guys that Rod is around."

Of course, not every moment in the meeting room over the last few weeks has been spent on review. As stable and basic as the Bucs' defense has been during the era of Kiffin and Head Coach Tony Dungy, it still goes through an evolution from year to year. The base philosophy may not change much, but there is always scheming to be done in order to counter your opponents' own scheming.

"They study you a lot, and they have with us, especially after we had the good run to the NFC Championship Game (the year before) and just came up short for the Super Bowl," said Kiffin. "This year, people will study Baltimore's defense a lot. Last year, I think our division opponents, especially, studied our defense hard.

"We have to stay ahead of the game. Football goes in cycles sometimes and we have to keep self-scouting to make sure people don't catch up with what we're doing. We'll have to do some new things this year to stay ahead in the chess game."

For now, though, Barry and Tomlin are simply learning how the pieces move around the board.

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