Who will benefit most from Buccaneers' new schemes
The team that takes the field this fall will be a different Buccaneers club with a new head coach, two new coordinators and a host of different players.
Just as big will be the schematic changes. After seven seasons in former coach Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense, Jeff Jagodzinski prepares to take over and implement his offense. And after 12 seasons under Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 defense, Jim Bates takes the reigns and will overhaul the defense somewhat.
So, given the changes, which players stand to benefit most from the alterations? Let's take a look:
- CB Aqib Talib: He tied for the team lead in interceptions as a rookie last season even though he played, by his estimate, about 40 percent of the defensive snaps. Now, with an emphasis being placed on bump-and-run coverage -- for which Talib is a perfect fit -- he likely will be in position to make even more plays. Under Kiffin's zone-heavy system, the cornerbacks often covered an area of the field and not a specific receiver. The switch to a more man-to-man system will give Talib the opportunity to become one of the league's premier cornerbacks if he steps up to the challenge.
- WR Michael Clayton: I know a fair number of our regular readers have had it up to here with Clayton, and that's understandable given his lack of production. But here's why it's possible he could break out: Jagodzinski has vowed to get more receivers involved in the passing game. Whereas Gruden's offense tended to feature single players (Antonio Bryant, Joey Galloway and Clayton in 2004), Jagodzinski seems more likely to spread it around. Doesn't make his approach better. Just different. Either way, Clayton figures to be on the field and could be a beneficiary of the new system after seeing very few balls the past two seasons.
- RB Earnest Graham: This guy has sustained lots of bumps and bruises over the past two seasons, in large part because he has taken a lot of hits. Under the zone-blocking system being put in place, running backs -- theoretically -- will take fewer hits. Zone blocking allows runners to read the play find one of the cutback lanes that should develop. Under the man-to-man blocking scheme employed in the past, the goal was to create a single hole for the runner. Problem is, if that hole doesn't develop or if the defense commits too many defenders, the running back often has to try to break tackles and drop a shoulder. That means more wear and tear.
- Offensive line: The zone blocking system is a perfect fit for the Bucs' offensive line. The young unit is one of the league's most athletic, meaning it possesses one of the most important qualities for a group that will engage in zone blocking. The tackles (Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood) are very good lateral movers, and the guards have shown in the past that they are nimble when asked to pull. Center Jeff Faine is regarded as one of the more agile players at his position and has proven that with his ability to get to the second level and take on linebackers.
- Young players: Gruden has more football knowlege in his pinkie finger than most people do upstairs. But maybe that was the problem sometimes. His complicated scheme and lengthy gameplans clearly overwhelmed some young players. It's a chief reason players who came to the Bucs out of college often didn't develop as much as you would hope. Even a veteran like Warrick Dunn admitted to me last season that he noticed many young players hesitating rather letting their ability take over because they lacked a comfort level in the offense. QB Luke McCown is on record saying Jagodzinski's playbook is roughly half the size of Gruden's. Jagodzinski says he'll have a lot less verbiage, too. All this will make the transition easier for young, talented players.
It will be interesting to see if and how all this comes together in the fall. The Bucs clearly are attempting a great deal of change at one time, which is very ambitious. But if they pull it off successfully, the aforementioned individuals won't be disappointed.