The opinion of one person is subjective. The opinion of seven people, on the other hand, probably borders more on fact. Every single assistant coach who spoke to the media on Wednesday said the same thing about Bucs Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles: he puts players in position to be successful.
“There’s no set way we’re going to play this defense,” Bowles said. “Obviously, we’re going to look and see how we can take people away but we’re going to be smart about what we do and how we do it.”
Though Bowles himself gives very little away, his coaching style and approach to defense is anything but conservative. The exact type of defense the Buccaneers will run and how they’ll ‘take people away’ on opposing offenses come Week One is still clouded in mystery. That may be because it isn’t fully developed. Bucs coaches have only had a limited time to work with their players and most of the work has come in the form of classroom time. In Phase I and II of the NFL offseason program, there is no contact or hitting of any kind allowed, which makes it hard to evaluate just what puzzle pieces Tampa Bay has and what each player does well. Therefore, it’s hard to tell how you’re going to fit each piece together if you want to maximize their talent.
“He was aggressive,” outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, a 13-year NFL veteran, said about what he saw when he played under Bowles in Arizona. “We didn’t have guys that could really get after the passer, so he had to create some type of pressure. He was real inventive as far as that year. He’s a former player. Some coaches just have their system. He puts it together off what we can do.”
That inventiveness takes time. With each week, the familiarity between the staff and personnel has grown and as the coaching staff pieces their scheme together, the picture of what the Bucs’ defense will look like as the season approaches starts to become clearer.
“We felt like we walked into a very talented team in a lot of areas,” defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said, commenting on the starting point of building the Bucs’ new system.
As far as his players on the line, they’ll be working together a lot with the outside linebackers because of a more fluid front between the Bucs’ base defense and sub packages. While their base features three down linemen, their other sub packages, including their nickel package (which the team will be in more often), features four down linemen, allowing the players that were previously in the Bucs’ 4-3 defense to still be successful and utilized.
“So much stuff that we do will be tied together,” Rodgers said of the two units. “We’ll meet together some and then in practice and individual are tied together whether we’re working on stunts, games, his guys are right next to my guys. We work together all the time. When you’re in the four-man front, I’ve got two of them, he’s two of them and all four of them have to work together. It’s very much intertwined.”
That fluidity translates to the back levels of the defense, too, in the secondary. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross has a couple new players to work with after last weekend’s draft and a young cornerback group overall. Therein lies an opportunity to mold each player and allow them to grow into where they can have the most success.
“I think these guys are going to grow into their own,” Ross said. “We’re trying to cross-train a lot of these guys. Some of them may be nickels and corners, some of them may be corners and safeties. We’re trying to cross-train them and find out what they do well and wherever they do well that’s where they’ll end up playing at.”
All these moving parts require a constant communication on the field. To help that along, it means constant communication off of it, too. In addition to placing players in the right positions, there’s a sense of accountability that needs to be developed in order for success to come to fruition. That accountability rests mostly on the players, which the coaches are very well aware of and in order to help it along, are placing more of an emphasis on the relationships among current and incoming players.
“The roles are going to be continuing to evolve as we go through the different phases,” assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust said. “In the classroom, I assist Coach Rodgers, and from what we’ve talked about when some of the rookies come in, [we want current players] possibly being more instrumental in getting them up to speed on the playbook if they need additional help.”
Perhaps that’s why Coach Bowles is touted as being so good at putting players in the right positions. It’s because he knows that more than being in the right spot on the field, players also need to be in the right spot, both mentally and physically, off of it.