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Tampa Bay Buccaneers emit good vibes about coach Raheem Morris

With Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator for the final six games, the Bucs went from giving up 29.4 points a game to 17.7.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

With Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator for the final six games, the Bucs went from giving up 29.4 points a game to 17.7.

TAMPA — It is employee evaluation time at One Buc Place.

So do you suppose Raheem Morris got a call from someone in human resources?

For it was one year ago this week that Morris was handed his new job title with the Buccaneers, and it is customary to do job reviews around every anniversary. So was this employee punctual? Did he keep his work area clean? Did he blitz Matt Ryan enough?

I suppose, in this case, there probably isn't a need for a formal review. The Glazers pretty much signed off on Raheem's first year of work when they issued a one-sentence statement 10 days ago expressing support for their young head coach.

Granted, they offered no details. No explanations. No hint of what they found promising in the past 12 months. But listen closely enough, and you begin hearing whispers of what the organization saw as positive signs in Morris' first season.

There was the relationship he had with his players. Perhaps he was a little too close, and maybe that's something he needs to work on in the future, but it appears a good number of the higher-profile players gave a thumbs-up when management asked their opinions.

Morris also has shown signs of being a strong evaluator of talent, and he is clearly not afraid of making tough decisions.

But if there is one thing that saved his job in the face of a 3-13 season, it was what Morris did after taking over the defense in late November.

In Miami, they are currently searching for a new defensive coordinator. In Kansas City and Washington, they have already handed the headsets to someone new. But around here, there will be no one new. Morris will act as his own defensive coordinator in 2010.

And why wouldn't he?

Through the first 10 games of the season with Jim Bates in charge, the Bucs were 31st in the NFL in points allowed. During the final six games, they were ninth. They went from giving up 29.4 points a game to holding opponents to 17.7 points.

That's a remarkable turnaround when you consider they were using the same players in the same uniforms in the same season. The only thing that changed was the guy in charge of the defense.

The original idea had been that Bates would add some of his defensive philosophies to the schemes Tampa Bay had used for more than a decade under Monte Kiffin. But after some early failures, that plan was abandoned. The defense had no identity whatsoever.

When Morris dismissed Bates, he went to work developing his original goal of a hybrid defense. The defensive line went back to a one-gap scheme. The pass coverage returned to a lot of Tampa 2 formations but with a more aggressive pass rush than Kiffin had used.

The linebackers blitzed. The cornerbacks blitzed. The safeties blitzed. Through the first 10 games, the Bucs had gotten two sacks from players other than defensive linemen. In the final six games, they got 61/2 sacks from linebackers and defensive backs.

There was also a sense that taking on the added responsibility of defensive coordinator helped Morris grow more comfortable as a head coach. He was more dialed in during practice and game day. He had a better feel for what his team needed and for the ebbs and flows of a game. It was almost like he finally had the transition he had missed when he was promoted from position coach to head coach.

You can probably assume it was that sense of growth, and the possibilities that the makings of a strong defense are already in place, that made a second year seem worth exploring to the Glazers.

Because if the final six weeks were no fluke, the Bucs are not as far from contention as you might think. If the defense can continue holding opponents to 18 points or less, they'd be among the league's best. And that would take the pressure off Josh Freeman at quarterback. New Jets coach Rex Ryan is riding that exact formula into the second round of the playoffs this weekend.

Honestly, the jury is still a long way from delivering a final verdict on Morris as a head coach. The bottom line is his career record is 3-13, and that still outweighs the circumstantial evidence that he may have turned a corner late in the season.

But the Glazers and general manager Mark Dominik clearly saw something in Morris they felt was still worth exploring.

By the time we reach his second job evaluation, we should know for sure.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers emit good vibes about coach Raheem Morris 01/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:47am]
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