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Players on Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense welcome switch back to Tampa 2

TAMPA — For 10 games, Chris Hovan played the loyal soldier. He deliberately gained weight, sacrificed his statistics and tried to bury himself like an anchor in the middle of Jim Bates' defense.

The 31-year-old veteran has gone through a lot of personal transformations in his career, but the identity crisis the Bucs' defense experienced this season bothered him the most.

Hovan said Tuesday his talents weren't best-suited for Bates' scheme and he was among the majority of players who welcomed the return of the Tampa 2 upon learning Tuesday that coach Raheem Morris is taking over the defensive play-calling after relieving Bates as defensive coordinator.

"There's a reason why they call it Tampa 2. Let's not kid ourselves," Hovan said. "Everyone has tried to copy it, scheme it. … Am I more comfortable? Yes. I'm not a two-gapper. I'm never going to be a two-gapper. My abilities are to run, penetrate and create at the line of scrimmage. With that being said, some of the guys are comfortable. But at the same time, we've got to go out there and just run the defense that is called."

The Bucs defense ranks 26th overall in the NFL and last against the run, allowing 168.9 rushing yards per game. Morris plans to reinstall the Tampa 2 scheme that was the NFL gold standard for more than a decade under Monte Kiffin.

Citing the fact that he originally was hired as defensive coordinator to replace Kiffin in December, Morris said Tuesday he's anxious to implement some of his ideas.

"It's funny. You were hired to be defensive coordinator two weeks before you were hired to be the head coach and you have some ideas and you've got your plans out there," Morris said. "Why throw (linebackers coach) Joe Barry out there and let him try to fix it the next six weeks when you think you can? I feel like it's my responsibility, I feel like I have to do it, I feel like it's what I'm supposed to do as a head coach and a man on this football team."

Bates, 63, is expected to remain with the team as a defensive consultant, breaking down game tape and helping Morris from the coaches' box on game day. Morris said those details are being worked out.

The change came swiftly Tuesday. Bates was not available for comment.

"We're going to make sure first of all that it's best for both of us," Morris said. "It's still a wait-and-see deal, but we're working together."

Every starter on defense has some familiarity with the Tampa 2, a one-gap scheme that allows the defensive line to use quickness to penetrate while undersized linebackers run to the football.

Bucs rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller, who played a similar one-gap scheme at Texas, said he was excited to see what he could do in the Tampa 2.

"This is what I've done in college and made a lot of plays doing it," Miller said. "It also helps us to get off on the pass rush, too. I'm just excited, I couldn't be more excited. I dreamed of coming here. Warren Sapp, all those guys played in this type of defense and (I'm) just excited to be a part of that."

Linebacker Geno Hayes, who was drafted out of Florida State to play the old system, believes the Bucs will improve their run defense. It also will take advantage of his speed at linebacker.

"It's going to be real good, we're going to have more plays to make on the run and the backers can be more involved. It's going to be good," Hayes said.

Linebacker Barrett Ruud, who leads the team in tackles, said the Bucs can't totally overhaul Bates' system in a week. He hoped the switch back to elements of the old system will improve the defense.

"It's tough to say. Obviously, we're 1-9 and we've been struggling," Ruud said. "Hopefully a change will provide some good things. Is it the right move? It remains to be seen. We're going to go in and play and hopefully it turns out to be the right move because we need to get some wins, 1-9 is definitely not good enough.''

Cornerback Ronde Barber, as a show of support, made a rare media appearance in the locker room Tuesday to support Morris.

"The building is not falling down," Barber said. "We're good. This team will stick together as it has all year when we've went through these tough patches. Don't worry about it. We'll find a way.

"At a time like this, I wouldn't say they made a bad decision on Jim Bates. Jim's done some great things for this defense. Raheem wanted to take it upon himself to turn this team around, and I'd like to think that's what he's doing."

Barber and others denied speculation that some players had lobbied for the switch during the team's 1-9 start. He's optimistic Morris will turn things around.

"If it's good, it's good. If it's the way it's been, there probably will be more changes," Barber said.

Players on Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense welcome switch back to Tampa 2 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:01pm]
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