Communication is the key to playing defense, and it was certainly lacking for the Bucs the past two seasons — between players and coaches.
S Dashon Goldson said he and other veterans tried to provide input to coaches last season. He said they rarely accepted it, but he believes it will be better under new coach Lovie Smith.
"Those position coaches had to look up to the head man (Greg Schiano), so it was hard to get that started," Goldson said. "But I think with this head coach, he'll listen. And I've already spoken to my position coach, and he was willing to take advice about anything I had to say.
"I think we can be a top-five defense easy. We've got a good line already. The linebacking corps is pretty good. The secondary is good. Some pieces will be added, I'm sure."
At the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, CB Darrelle Revis made similar comments about communication.
What's interesting is Schiano leaned on veterans such as Revis, Goldson, LG Carl Nicks and RG Davin Joseph. They were part of a players council that met with him on Fridays.
The team created a lot of turnovers and tackles-for-losses. But its schemes were so complex at times — and not always sound — it created too many breakdowns, particularly on the line and in the secondary.
How many times did the Bucs talk about setting the edge and containing mobile quarterbacks such as Seattle's Russell Wilson, Carolina's Cam Newton and Washington's Robert Griffin III only to allow them to get outside and make huge plays that, ultimately, cost them victories?
There's no way a team should blow a 24-0 lead at Seattle unless it provides easy scoring opportunities.
Revis said an NFC South opponent recently told him that he and his teammates knew they could attack the Bucs on the perimeter at any time. The stunts and line slants often didn't work in connection with the coverage.
Smith will bring a foundation on defense, a starting place, a one-gap, 4-3, Tampa 2 scheme from which everything will evolve.
"Each scheme is different," new defensive line coach Joe Cullen said. "We will use some stunting, but we'll also use the player to win a one-on-one block. You can get after someone with a four-man rush, seven-man, eight-man, all-out blitz. Either way, that play has to be effective in whatever scheme you're employing it."
Ultimately, players need to be accountable. Goldson is trying to change the outlook after a 4-12 season, his first after leaving San Francisco for a five-year, $41.25 million ($22 million guaranteed) contract. In addition to an 0-8 start and three players contracting MRSA, Goldson was suspended for one game (he avoided another suspension via appeal) and fined $454,705 for helmet-to-helmet hits.
"Coming from an organization or a team that was on the rise and playing in the postseason and Super Bowls and things like that and then having to deal with a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with football — things like MRSA and people on the outside talking about things — it was a little struggle," Goldson said. "Knowing the talent we had and knowing how good of a football team we could be and not meeting those expectations, it was a little struggle.
"I've not met with Lovie, but I have spoken with him twice. I expressed how excited I was for him to be here, and we just talked about me as a player and how excited he is to coach. It was a meet-and-greet kind of deal. I think it's going to be fun. I think we already have a good football team, and I'm sure they're going to bring in big names and some good players. I'm excited about this year."
BEAR DOWN: Smith confirmed he invited former Bears LB Brian Urlacher to spend time with the Bucs in training camp.
"Brian is a family member for life," Smith said. "I've had the privilege to be around a lot of great players. Any great player I've been around is always welcome wherever I am. We're trying to build something here football-wise, and I'm going to call on the Brian Urlachers of the world and, of course, all our former Bucs around here.
"Derrick Brooks will tell you I've been in his ear quite a bit. I got a chance to text with John Lynch. Any time you can have players around your current roster that have been through our system and know what it takes, it's a good thing."
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.