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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

More Options in the Huddle Could Spark Run Game

To boost a rushing attack that has struggled the last two years, new Offensive Coordinator Liam Coen wants his offense to be able to adjust "out on the grass," which will put a lot of responsibilty on QB Baker Mayfield


The first topic that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new offensive coordinator, Liam Coen, broached with the players in his very first meeting with them this offseason was the state of the team's rushing attack. That's unsurprising given that the Buccaneers, while operating a fairly productive offense in recent seasons, has struggled to put forth a consistently good rushing attack. In fact, Tampa Bay finished last in the NFL in rushing yards per game and yards per carry each of the past two seasons.

The Buccaneers started the fourth week of their offseason program on Monday, and the second week in which coaches were allowed to work with players on the field. It's the earliest stages of installing Coen's offense, and his message to the players has been consistent and eagerly received.

"All the message has been is just, 'How do we get better? How do we take the next step from good to great?'" he said. "And obviously, first and foremost, [it's] fixing and getting better in the run game. These guys have been fully bought-in. They've been great energy, really communicative out on the field, really engaged. It's been an absolute pleasure working with these guys so far."

Of course, it's one thing to identify a problem and another thing altogether to fix it. After ranking 32nd in rushing yards in 2022 the Buccaneers obviously wanted to get better in that area last year, and did make some strides as the season progressed, but the end results weren't much better on paper. How will Coen and the Bucs' coaching staff actually produce that ground game turnaround in 2024?

The answer has multiple facets, including some that relate to personnel. A bruising new center (Graham Barton) drafted in the first round could help, as could a new rookie back (Bucky Irving) to take some of the load off Rachaad White and give the Bucs fresh legs at all time. There will be a new starter at left guard, as well, after a training camp competition.

But it goes beyond getting more players; part of the answer involves giving those players more. Specifically, Coen wants the offense to have multiple options in the huddle so that when they do call a runing play they're giving their ballcarriers a better chance to succeed.

"[We'll have] some diversity in terms of giving these guys different ways of hitting blocks, whether it's the mid zone, the wide zone, the tight zone, duo, gap with pullers, perimeter runs," he said. "Defenses are too good to say that we're just going to line up and run a few runs. We have to give these guys a toolbox, and also that goes along with giving them multiple plays in the huddle.

"That might be two, it might be three options to be able to get to in terms of what the defense is presenting. Well, let's change the math and run away from numbers, or gain the numbers back in our favor. If we get man coverage, let's get to a man-beater. It ultimately puts a lot more on the guys, but I think they're ready for it."

Of course, if there are multiple play choices in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, there has to be someone responsible for choosing the right option and getting all 11 players on the same page. That will obviously be quarterback Baker Mayfield, who produced a rousing bounceback season in his first year as the Bucs' starter, earned a new long-term contract because of it, and now has a chance to take the offense to another level by embracing another level of responsibility.

"At the end of the day, we're going to give him the pen last, but we want to put him in a great position to make sure he's making the right decisions, moreso than the bad decisions, to help this offense," said Quarterbacks Coach Thad Lewis. "We're going to give it to him, we're going to see what he can do. Sometimes you've got to scale it back, sometimes you can give him more, but if you don't give it to him you don't know. Hats off to Liam for doing that, and also trusting Baker and empowering him."

That process is just beginning. Coen and Lewis are going to start out aggressively with Mayfield to learn how much he can take on, and they are confident he will be able to handle quite a bit.

"As an offensive coordinator, you're going to put more on their plate than they can handle to see what they canhandle," said Lewis. "Then you'll take a little bit back off and see what you've got to do. I think from the beginning he's going to put a lot on Baker's plate and see what he can handle, and I think he can handle more than people think. He's very cerebral, he's very smart. But it's going to take a group effort, like for us to put the film together for him…to get out of certain plays, the tips and the tells when the pressures coming on defense."

At times, Mayfield will be tasked with getting out of a run play if it looks like the defense is more susceptible to the pass at that moment. At times he will be moving from one rushing concept to another, whether it be aimed in a different direction or blocked in a different way. Coen is putting the ultimate power in the hands of his players, and particularly in the hands of his quarterback.

"So [sometimes] it's, you've got run the run with an alert to the pass," said Coen. "Okay, we want to run to the right…well, they've got a lot of guys over there, let's run over here. Okay, they play man coverage, let's try to beat them, and some of those types of things. Give the guys the flexibility and ability to be able to adjust out on the grass, because at the end of the day, I'm not the one playing."

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