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Challenge for Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense: Establish an identity

Raheem Morris has joked that he's the most successful defensive coordinator in Bucs history.

"I might give the title up, but right now I am the only defensive coordinator without a yard gained on him," Morris said. "I'm still that guy until (today). Don't take my title yet. Call Monte (Kiffin). Write it down. Take a picture."

Morris was named defensive coordinator-in-waiting by Jon Gruden on Christmas Day. But a few weeks later, the Bucs fired Gruden and promoted Morris to coach.

Now Morris assumes the role of defensive coordinator, taking over from ousted Jim Bates.

Regardless of Morris' success in the next six games, you can expect the Bucs to look for another defensive coordinator this spring.

Morris, 33, really doesn't want to wear both hats. He saw how Gruden struggled as coach/offensive coordinator.

That said, there will be a much more predictable vetting process for a defensive coordinator by Morris and GM Mark Dominik.

The Bucs have decided not to stray far from their Tampa 2 roots. That means likely going back to a one-gap scheme that emphasizes speed and quickness over size and strength.

That's not to suggest the Bucs won't tweak their defense. They're playing less Cover 2 than ever before and that will continue, so long as CB Aqib Talib can shut down half the field. They could try to find more space-eating defensive tackles.

But you can bet the list of defensive coordinator candidates will have roots in the Tampa 2 defense.

One coach the Bucs aren't likely to consider is LBs coach Joe Barry. In a way, that's a shame. The team has a long history with Barry. But as Lions defensive coordinator in 2007-08, Barry saw his team rank last in points allowed and total defense two years in a row.

The Bucs went into this season committed to a youth movement. Defensively, they wanted to see what players could do, such as if Jimmy Wilkerson was an every-down left defensive end who could have 10 sacks a year or a player who excels on third down.

Wilkerson has been solid but not spectacular. So that evaluation will save the Bucs millions of dollars by not signing him to a long-term deal for starters money the way the Lions did with former Bucs DE Dewayne White.

Meanwhile, Morris can help the Bucs define their identity on defense in the next six games. Who knows? Maybe he can retain his title.

"We'll see," Morris said. "We have to get the stats right."

Most valuable: A lot of assumptions were made after reports that offensive coordinator Greg Olson had signed a contract extension.

Did it mean Morris is definitely back for 2009? Did it mean the Bucs were making a statement about the progress of their offense the same week they replaced Bates as defensive coordinator?

No and no.

Olson was given an extension in September and a pay increase to reflect his promotion from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Because he was a holdover from Gruden's staff, the Bucs added a year to bring him in concert with Morris' other assistants.

Of course, the Bucs had no idea they would start 1-9. But with the drafting of QB Josh Freeman, Olson may be the most important member of Morris' staff. Continuity would only help Freeman if Olson can stay in Tampa Bay.

With Morris assuming the role of defensive coordinator, Olson will be even more autonomous.

"There's a great trust factor with all my coaches," Morris said. "These guys all do a great job for you, and they are all going to work as hard as they can. Greg is one of those guys. … We'll see each other at the end of the day, and we'll always know what is going on, so we'll always be on the same page. He has a great philosophy. We have a great philosophy together. It's still a team game. We have to play together, and we have to figure out what we have to do that is best for our team to try to win each game."

Challenge for Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense: Establish an identity 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 6:09pm]

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