Greg Schiano, who will direct his first game as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday night (albeit a preseason affair), knows there will be some mistakes. Some routes will be run incorrectly, some gap assignments forgotten. And of course, in a game that could feature up to 170 players shuttling in and out of action, it is expected that a few tackles will be missed.
Tackling is a significant focus for Schiano in the preseason opener. While he can live with those inevitable misses, what he hopes he doesn't see is a lack of aggression. He hasn't been completely pleased with what he's seen on the practice field in training camp, though the lack of actual full-speed tackling makes it difficult to judge.
"I want to see the fundamentals, the approach," said Schiano before Friday's game. "Are we pressing the ball downhill? As I watch our video, we circle the ball too much as a defense. You've got to go get it. You've got to have faith that you can run and go get it, and that's what I want to see."
The Buccaneers have employed a 4-3 base defense since 1991, and that won't change in 2012. There are certain to be other changes, of course, with Schiano's arrival and an entire new coaching staff that includes Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan. Just as obviously, there need to be some changes, after the Bucs finished with their worst defensive numbers in decades in 2011.
Schiano's staff is not necessarily eager to share too many details about their plans or their playbook on either offense or defense. However, he has made it clear that the 2012 team will be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. Often, that sort of pronouncement is interpreted to mean that a defense will blitz with more regularity, and it's possible that's true, but that's not the core of what Schiano was getting at. Everything that the Bucs do on defense will be aggressive – Schiano uses that "downhill" descriptor a lot – and that includes how they approach tackling.
So, while the defensive game plan probably won't be too complex on Friday night for the first preseason game, the coaching staff will still be paying very close attention to how well Buccaneer defenders get Dolphin ballcarriers to the ground.
"We're not going to throw the kitchen sink at them here tonight, but I think what we are going to do is stress and strain to make tackles," said Schiano. "That's one of the things we've worked very hard on, and it's the hardest thing because we have not tackled live one time, other than the young kids on that FanFest evening."