TAMPA — Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith will take the elevator up to the coach's box at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, a perch from which he can get the best look at what formation the Falcons plan to utilize in their attack.
"You see so much more when you have that view,'' Smith said.
In the season opener, it will be a different vantage point from the one Smith had from 2008-14 as Falcons coach. He was fired after the 2014 season.
Smith has intimate knowledge of the Falcons' personnel, particularly the nuances of quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, three of the most dangerous offensive players in the NFL.
"We're familiar with a handful of guys,'' said Smith, who has the best coaching record in Falcons history, 60-36. "That roster has turned over for the last two years. I think there's less than 15 guys on their roster that were there two years ago. So we know some of the players, and I think it is somewhat of an advantage, but it could be a disadvantage because you know too much.''
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is still are receiving a crash course on Smith's defense, which features multiple fronts, pressure blitz packages and a smorgasbord of pass coverage.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said the Bucs are still only beginning to grasp all the concepts in Smith's defense but the scheme has been well received. The team averaged four sacks per game in the preseason.
"(Smith is) very crafty with what he does and how he does things,'' McCoy said. "You never know what's coming. Very versatile front. You can be a 4-3, 3-4, five-man, you never know. Sometimes there are people all over the place.
"We're going to get pressure, whether it's four-man (rush), blitzing. We did a great job with four-man in the preseason, but it's preseason. We weren't dealing with Matt Ryan and a game plan. I love it, though. I love playing in the defense.''
Before he became a head coach, Smith earned a reputation as one of the league's best defensive coordinators in Jacksonville from 2003-07 after spending three seasons coaching the defensive line and then linebackers with the Ravens.
The only thing hindering Smith's installation of his defense with the Bucs is the lack of time to teach it in the offseason. But players such as former Jaguars and Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith and former Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes have helped tutor teammates.
"They've been a big help because they've heard this multiple times through the years what we're trying to get done,'' Smith, 57, said. "They can translate it. Sometimes they can sit back and say, 'Hey, this is what that gray-haired man really means.' So they've done a very good job of helping these young players and putting it in a player's perspective. ''
With more moving pieces, there is a greater risk of missed assignments, especially early in the season. The system requires pinpoint communication on every snap, safety Chris Conte said.
"There's a lot of stuff, a lot more going on than last year,'' Conte said. "It makes us be a lot more aware of things, forces us to communicate. We have to make sure we're on the same page.
"In our past system, there was a little less to communicate. Now there's a lot that needs to be communicated. You just have to be vocal. If you see something, say something.''
Coach Dirk Koetter, who was the Jaguars' offensive coordinator when Smith called the defense, said the Bucs' defensive-line depth will help keep players fresh to pressure Ryan, who passed for 666 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in two losses to Tampa Bay last season.
"I think just that we're going to play a lot of guys,'' Koetter said. "We're going to rotate that front. … I think we have a lot better ball-hawkers in the secondary as far as getting after the football. And I think we'll see an improved pass rush.
"We will not sit in one look. I think 'Smitty' will dial up several different looks. … I know they're giving us fits in practice right now. … But I just feel like the multiplicity will show up."