TAMPA — Tony Oden is not what you might consider a household name. In fact, odds are you've never heard of him.
But if the Bucs are going to play winning football in the fall, he'll be a key part of that success.
See, it is Oden's job to pick up the pieces from what was the worst secondary in the NFL in 2012. The Bucs' new defensive backs coach has been afforded some significant luxuries in CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson, both All-Pros.
But there's still a sizable workload for Oden, who not only must integrate those new players but develop a long list of young players.
While it's no surprise that former defensive backs coach Ron Cooper struggled to produce results last season with cornerbacks Eric Wright and Aqib Talib often unavailable and with inexperienced replacements, the team had significant concerns about the job he did. He was, umm, encouraged to find work elsewhere and landed at USF as assistant head coach/defensive backs coach.
Enter Oden. The Cleveland native was defensive backs coach with the Saints (2011) and Jaguars (2012), but both experiences were quite different from this one. Between the subpar play in 2012 (the Bucs were just shy of setting an NFL record for passing yards allowed) and the dramatic personnel changes (Ronde Barber retired, for instance), it's a pivotal time for the secondary.
One of Oden's challenges is working with Revis during the offseason. Revis was unable to participate in practices because of his rehab from a torn left ACL. But Oden and Revis still needed to spend considerable time formulating a plan for how Revis will be used.
"(Revis) wants to know exactly how you want it done within the scheme of the defense," Oden, 39, said. "We say, 'Here's where everyone else is going to fit in the defense, and here are, potentially, some of the things that you can do.' He is more than willing to do things the way we do them. But here's the thing: He has a unique skill set, and we're going to lean on that at some point."
On the other end of the spectrum, Oden finds himself introducing rookie CB Johnthan Banks to the NFL.
"He's going to be up against a lot," Oden said of the second-round pick out of Mississippi State. "One of the things he's learning is that everybody is good here. Everyone is fast. He has to play with a good sense of urgency down in and down out. Things are going to go wrong from time to time. The most important play in football is the next one. Those are the things he's learning. He's doing a good job."
The defensive backfield is going to be an interesting place come training camp. The Bucs, after signing Michael Adams last week, have 11 cornerbacks on their 90-man offseason roster.
Each will look to Oden for guidance. If he comes through, Oden — whether you know his name or not — can be an important factor this season.
LIGHTEN UP: Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy, speaking to his hometown paper, the Oklahoman, said he has lost 20 pounds in the offseason through "diet and working" out. McCoy has previously been listed at 300 pounds.
LOOKING AHEAD: With players on their own until training camp, discipline becomes critical with coach Greg Schiano's brutal conditioning test looming after they report. Last year's test consisted of 16 110-yard sprints with 45 seconds of rest in between. WR Dezmon Briscoe and DT Brian Price were among the players who failed the test. Ultimately, Briscoe was released and Price traded to the Bears (though other factors contributed).
IT'S A DATE: As expected, the Bucs have solidified plans for preseason practices against the Patriots for the second straight year. This time, the Bucs will practice at Foxborough, Mass., on Aug. 13-14 before their game Aug. 16, which airs nationally on Fox.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]