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The following is a preview of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense entering training camp:
It might take a few years for new defensive coordinator Jim Bates to get the horses he needs up front. Gone is the Tampa Two scheme which emphasized penetration from the interior line. Instead of lining up in the gaps, defensive tackles will be more head up on guards and centers. Hovan has beefed up to 310 pounds and will be part of a rotation inside that includes Sims, Moore and Texas rookie Miller, the team's third-round pick. Moore, a rookie from Southern Cal, can play inside or outside and the versatility will be their key. The Bucs know they need to get more pressure on the quarterback. Adams, the first-round pick in 2007, led the team with 6.5 sacks last season. The Bucs have averaged just 30.8 sacks per season since 2004 and need to be closer to the 45 range. For that to happen, they need to get more production from players like Adams and White, who had just five sacks last season.
The Bucs released Derrick Brooks, the 14-year veteran who was the heart and soul of the defense for many reasons but he slowed down at the end of last season. The stated reason for the move was that the Bucs wanted to get younger. But instead, they are attempting to shift Phillips to LB. Phillips is the same player the Bucs chose to replace John Lynch. No experiments are necessary for Ruud, the club's leading tackler the past two seasons and one of the league's underrated players. Black and Hayward will battle it out at strong-side linebacker. But just in case, the Bucs signed Buffalo free agent Crowell, who is coming off knee surgery. It's a fast group that can expect more blitz opportunities with Bates running the show.
The Bucs will utilize more bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage under Bates. It'll be interesting to see how Barber adapts after spending his career in the Tampa Two zone scheme. Talib, who played part-time in nickel passing situations, shared the team interceptions lead with Barber last season with four. They will be the Bucs' starting corners this season and Morris believes Talib could lead the NFL in picks. He is a perfect fit for Bates' bump-and-run scheme. But Barber, who turned 34, could struggle trying to reroute more physical receivers. Seventh-round pick Biggers from Michigan State and second-year pro Mack will battle it out for the nickel spot. At safety, Piscitelli takes over for Phillips, who is making the transition to linebacker. He covers a lot of grass and is a ball hawk but a suspect tackler who takes bad angles. Jackson slumped as a sophomore and need to step it up in '09. Barber still excels in the slot during passing downs. But he got burned often when the Bucs were in their base defense.
Tomorrow: Special teams.
To access the offensive preview, click here.