NASHVILLE — The Tampa 2 is no more. The man who redefined the linebacker position (Derrick Brooks) is looking for work. And the grizzled, hunched-over coordinator with the scratchy voice (Monte Kiffin) is back in school after 13 seasons.
Yet, somehow, Tampa Bay still managed to dominate on defense?
The first preseason game of this new era didn't answer the plethora of questions about the Bucs' revamped offense. But in a 27-20 loss to the Titans on Saturday, the Bucs, perhaps, answered some concerns about how their defense would hold up after a top-to-bottom overhaul.
There was a 21-yard completion on the second defensive snap. But mostly, the Bucs stood tall against the Titans' first-team offense. Aside from the long pass, Tennessee eked out just 28 yards in the first quarter. Two drives were halted by interceptions, by Sabby Piscitelli and Stylez White.
Speed, aggressiveness and turnovers are supposed to be the hallmarks of the defense under new coordinator Jim Bates, and each was present.
"The best thing that we did is go out and play fast," said cornerback Ronde Barber, who did that when he decked running back Chris Johnson for a 3-yard loss.
"We created some of the things that Jim has been talking about all offseason: pressure and turnovers. If that can define us all year, I think we will have a pretty good defense."
Said linebacker Barrett Ruud: "It's different Xs and Os, but the mentality is the same."
So maybe this defense isn't so different after all considering those are the things that made it a success for so long.
Tampa Bay limited the Titans to six points in the first half, when most of the teams' key players were on the field. Tennessee had six first downs, but none came on the ground, where it had 12 yards. Coach Raheem Morris, directing his first game as coach, credited the penetration of tackles Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan and rookie Roy Miller.
The biggest lapse came on a 37-yard pass from Vince Young to Kenny Britt, who exploited a blown coverage in the secondary to score in the third quarter. The irony: The coverage appeared to be the Tampa 2 zone scheme the Bucs made famous under Kiffin, who joined his son on the staff of the University of Tennessee.
"They flew around, and they played fast," Morris said.
How fast: "We have a track team out there," linebacker Jermaine Phillips said. "I think we can challenge (Olympic champ) Usain Bolt if we wanted to."
There were other key evaluations.
Phillips, the converted safety, had a largely undistinguished performance while playing the entire first quarter and first series of the second.
"I didn't really get the physical confrontation that I was looking for like I wanted," he said. "A lot of the plays went away from me."
Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman started the third quarter and looked like a player who has received limited snaps in training camp as a result of the ongoing battle between veterans Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown. April's 17th overall pick made some impressive throws, but they were offset by miscues. Among them was an attempt at a tight throw that resulted in an interception returned 29 yards for a touchdown by Ryan Mouton.
"I thought I could squeeze it in there," said Freeman, who finished 5-of-9 for 52 yards.
Josh Johnson entered in the fourth quarter and ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run with 6:20 left then completed a two-point conversion.
Mike Nugent, enjoying sole possession of the kicking duties with Matt Bryant hurt, connected from 51 yards to close the first half but missed a subsequent 50-yarder. Late in the game, he sent a kickoff out of the end zone.
But the defense was the surprise of the night.
"People know we ran the Cover 2 for so long," Phillips said. "But we've bought in, and I think defense is still going to be a staple in Tampa Bay."