Let's begin this story with the appendix. Mark Dominik was having his removed in the hospital one day in January when he learned he was going to be entrusted with the outcome of another operation. The Glazer family had decided to name Dominik general manager and Raheem Morris coach. So there was Dominik, having lost an organ, and he was one of the lucky ones. The Bucs fired coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen and cut ties with both coordinators and, eventually, linebacker Derrick Brooks, their 11-time Pro Bowl player.
The reason? A monumental collapse that contributed to four straight losses to end the 2008 season, a seismic stretch that saw the once-proud Bucs defense surrender 123 points and 1,544 yards.
Nobody has forgotten what happened in December, which is why the Bucs will focus on rebuilding the defense in the draft this weekend.
Picking in the backwaters at No. 19 makes it difficult for Dominik to know who will be on the board when the Bucs make their first selection at about 6:30 tonight.
So few defensive playmakers might be left that the team's first instinct could be to try to trade down and recoup the second-round pick it traded to Cleveland as part of the deal for tight end Kellen Winslow.
Failing that, Dominik's priority must be to find players who fit the system of new defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
Instead of smaller, quicker, penetrating defensive tackles, Bates has had success with 320-pound space-eaters who plug the running lanes. Rather than identify defensive backs who thrive in the Tampa 2 system, he wants physical corners who can reroute receivers and play bump coverage.
"We're trying to make sure when we draft a guy, it's a perfect fit," Dominik said. "As (former Bucs director of player personnel) Jerry Angelo used to say, 'Why put a square peg in a round hole?' "
The Bucs have identified at least six players they expect to be available at No. 19.
Until the draft unfolds, though, it's pure speculation. But the list likely includes (in no order of preference): Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry, cornerbacks Vontae Davis of Illinois and Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest and defensive ends Larry English of Northern Illinois and Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Jerry would have been a better fit for the previous scheme, a gap-shooting pass rusher.
"We're trying to decide whether we need more pluggers or penetrators," Dominik said.
In the past, Bates has had success finding 320-pound defensive tackles in the middle rounds. English (6-2, 253) projects better as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Johnson (6-7, 265) started only one season for the Yellow Jackets and was inconsistent.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they do target a defensive end," said former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, whose teams averaged just 30.8 sacks since 2004. "The interior linemen, I think everybody … expects them to draft a defensive tackle. But I just don't know if that player is there for them in the first round.
"We need some defensive linemen. My problem is that I just don't see anyone who plays defensive tackle that I can get fired up about here at No. 19. We need a defensive back, too. I'm going to look at Vontae Davis. I liked his workout but didn't like his tapes."
In a mock draft on NFL.com, Gruden chose Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, but he isn't believed to be the highest-rated cornerback on the Bucs' draft board. Davis, the brother of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, is a physical specimen who would make a nice bookend corner with Aqib Talib for years to come.
"A guy I know Tampa Bay would like is Alphonso Smith from Wake Forest. That's just my opinion because all he does is make plays," Gruden said. "But I would be surprised if they didn't take a defensive end or take one of those defensive tackles"
Smith is one of the nation's most productive defenders. He intercepted 15 passes during his final two years at Wake Forest, returning four for touchdowns.
Of course, while defense will be the theme of the Bucs' draft, it doesn't mean they don't have other needs.
The fly in the ointment is Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman. If he is there at No. 19, it might be impossible for Tampa Bay to pass on him despite having four quarterbacks under contract, including recently signed veteran Byron Leftwich.
Morris was an assistant at Kansas State in 2006 and is enamored with Freeman, whom he compared to the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger. Some analysts project Freeman to be gone no later than the Jets at No. 17.
There also could be some trades. Tight end Alex Smith is in the final year of his contract and seemingly edged out by the Winslow deal. Center/guard Sean Mahan also might be expendable.
Regardless of what happens in the first round, Dominik and Morris know why they have their jobs. The defense wasn't good enough and a lot of people got fired.