TAMPA — The Bucs tied for the NFL lead in penalties in 2015 and reset the franchise records for penalties and penalty yards. Lowering that significantly will be a priority for new coach Dirk Koetter, as well as defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
"I think it has to be an emphasis point from the very beginning," Smith said Wednesday in his first news conference since being hired. "That was one of the things we did well in Atlanta, in terms of talking to players about how important it is to play penalty-free. … We want to be tough, we want to be aggressive, but we've got to play smart."
Smith's numbers as head coach with the Falcons are impressive. His Falcons teams had the fewest penalties in the NFL in 2010 (58) and 2012 (55) and tied for second fewest in 2008, his first year with the team. Consider, by comparison, that the fewest penalties ever by a Bucs team in a full season is 75, set in 1999.
In Smith's first season in Atlanta, the Falcons went from 26th in the league in penalties (105 total) to tied for second (71). What's more, he spent this past season working as a consultant with the league office, learning more about the officiating process.
"I got an opportunity to see how the game is officiated, and I think that it'll be an advantage," Smith said. "The things that really hurt you are the defensive pass interferences or the silly, dumb penalties. As a defense, we're going to strive to play on the edge, but not over the edge. That's a fine line."
WELCOME BACK: For Bucs LT Donovan Smith, catching his breath after taking every offensive snap as a rookie, part of his excitement at the Bucs promoting Koetter to head coach is the continuity in the offense in 2016.
"I don't have to learn a new playbook," Smith said, taking in Shrine Game practice on Wednesday in St. Petersburg and watching some of his former Penn State teammates. "At the end of the day, that's a big part of it. He's a great coach and he earned that spot. We're going to hit the ground running."
Donovan Smith was one of four Bucs (with QB Jameis Winston, RG Ali Marpet and LB Kwon Alexander) named to the Pro Football Writers Association's All-Rookie team — the most of any team — and said it's rewarding to be recognized for the immediate impact that he and his fellow Bucs rookies provided.
"It means a lot — it's something to put on the resume and build from there," Smith said. "It speaks volumes of the job (GM) Jason (Licht) has done in drafting us and getting us to Tampa. The future is bright for all of us, just the whole team."
THIS AND THAT: Jefferson graduate Zack Grossi, who was a pro scout for the Bucs in 2015 after joining the team as a scouting assistant in 2014, will be the assistant to the head coach as part of Koetter's staff this season. … Mike Smith said he's excited to "really look under the hood" and evaluate the returning defensive players from 2015, having only "watched from afar" this past season. … Smith, a Ravens assistant when Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa in January 2001, said he first met Koetter that offseason when Ravens coaches spoke at a coaching clinic at Arizona State, where Koetter was head coach.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.