The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished 19th in the NFL in pass defense in 2006, have turned to a familiar hand to guide the secondary back to its usual heights.
On Monday, the Buccaneers announced that they have hired Raheem Morris to serve as the team's defensive backs coach, replacing Greg Burns, who will not return.
Morris spent four seasons on the Bucs' staff (2002-05), including the last two as assistant defensive backs coach, before heading to Kansas State last year to become the Wildcats' defensive coordinator. Morris was a defensive quality control coach in 2002 when Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII.
In 2003, the Buccaneers promoted Morris to defensive assistant, and in 2004 he officially began working alongside Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin with the cornerbacks and safeties. Prior to joining the Buccaneers' staff, Morris had been the defensive backs coach at Hofstra, his alma mater, in 2000 and 2001.
During Morris' four seasons working with Tomlin, the Buccaneers never finished worse than sixth in the league in pass defense. Tampa Bay had the league's top ranking in that category in 2002 and 2004, was third in 2003 and sixth in 2005.
The Buccaneers' drop to 19th in the rankings in 2006 marked their lowest finish since they were 26th in 1995, the year before Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy brought the Cover Two defense to Tampa. The struggles of 2006 could certainly be linked to a sub par pass rush – with 25, the Bucs also had their lowest sack total since 1995 – but the team is eager to return to its oppressive, ballhawking ways in the defensive backfield. Tampa Bay's defense averaged 22 interceptions a year from 1999-2005 before snaring just 11 this past season. And the combined 91.0 passer rating put up by opposing passers in 2006 was the worst allowed by a Buccaneer defense since 1994.
Morris is a welcome link back to a Super Bowl staff that featured a wealth of coaching talent. The Bucs have faced quite a bit of attrition due to that success, losing Rod Marinelli to the Detroit Lions' head coaching job and Tomlin and Joe Barry to defensive coordinator positions in Minnesota and Detroit, respectively.
In his one season in Manhattan under Head Coach Ron Prince, Morris helped the Wildcats post a 7-5 regular-season record and earn an invitation to the Texas Bowl. Rutgers defeated Kansas State, 37-10, in the Dec. 28 bowl game at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
Among the standout defenders coached by Morris were senior linebacker Brandon Archer (106 tackles, 2.5 sacks), sophomore defensive end Ian Campbell (11 sacks) and junior defensive back Marcus Watts (team-high three interceptions). Archer recently committed to play in the 2007 Senior Bowl, which means he will get one more week of Morris' tutelage; the Buccaneers have accepted an invitation to coach the North Squad at the Senior Bowl.
Archer and Campbell both earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2006, and Watts was a second-team choice. Four other players from Morris' defense were awarded honorable mention status: senior linebacker Zach Diles, senior defensive tackle Quintin Echols, junior defensive end Rob Jackson and senior defensive back Kyle Williams.
Morris will take over a talented crew in Tampa, as well. Cornerback Ronde Barber will be making his fourth Pro Bowl trip in February, and long-time standout Brian Kelly is expected to return at full strength in 2007 from a foot injury. Former Raider and Texan Phillip Buchanon fit into the Bucs' defense well after being acquired in October, and the young safety tandem of Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen started all 16 games together.
Morris played safety at Hofstra from 1994-97 before beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Pride in 1998. He then coached the defensive backs at Cornell for one season before returning to Hofstra. He originally hails from Irvington, New Jersey.
Burns, who replaced Tomlin, served as Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach for one season. Prior to joining the Bucs, he spent the previous four seasons as the secondary coach at USC.