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Tampa Bay Buccaneers must generate fierce pass rush

TAMPA — The Buccaneers' defense no longer has a nice, compact nickname. No, this is not the Tampa 2.

A great deal is still unknown about the style of defense Tampa Bay will play this season. But this much about the new scheme is certain: It will be a failure without consistent pressure on the quarterback.

"This defense, really, is predicated on pressure," cornerback Ronde Barber said.

And therein lies the problem.

The Bucs have not mustered a steady pass rush in the past several seasons. So now that quarterback pressure is central to their defensive scheme, how do the Bucs inject life into it?

By doing anything and everything.

It's all on the table: blitzes, position changes and ever-changing lineups. The Bucs believe the time has come to get creative and take chances.

If that means linebacker Quincy Black lines up with his hand in the dirt, so be it. If it calls for rookie defensive end Kyle Moore to slide inside and exploit a slow-footed guard, that's okay, too. And if the secondary is asked to hold its ground longer, then that's a price the Bucs are willing to pay.

Part of the challenge is that Tampa Bay is looking for results similar to those produced by its quarterback nemeses of yesteryear but is attempting to get them with unproven commodities such as Jimmy Wilkerson and Gaines Adams.

"They have to do better," coach Raheem Morris said. "When we talk about more pass rush, we're comparing them to Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp, Greg Spires, Booger McFarland. Those guys gave you more.

"Anything you ask (Sapp) to do, he's going to get it. Anything you ask Simeon to do as far as the pass rush, it was going to be dynamic. It was going to be special. (The current) guys are being compared to those guys in their second and third years. It's been unfair for them. But they have to come into their own."

It feels like eons have passed since the Bucs recorded eye-popping sack totals such as the franchise-record 55 in 2000 under Tony Dungy. They have averaged 29 in the past three seasons, but new coordinator Jim Bates is prepared to take chances to ensure the numbers increase.

Using the blitz is central to that effort.

"That's something that coach Bates is doing a great job of," said linebacker Jermaine Phillips, who said he will frequently be involved in blitzes. "You just never know where the pressure is coming from."

Said Bates: "Going into games, we're going to have plenty of five-man pressures, six-man pressures, seven-man pressures. It depends on how the game's going. We may not need it much. If the four-man rush is getting (the quarterback), there's nothing better.

"Then you're solid in coverage, and you're not giving up big plays. But of course, you cannot let a quarterback, no matter who he is, get in a comfort zone."

Beyond the blitz, it's likely the Bucs will use a number of unconventional lineups along the line. Like a pair of basketball coaches, Bates and Morris are looking for mismatches that will take advantage of their players' strengths.

"Those combinations are going to confuse people, hopefully," Morris said. "Maybe I have a chance to get Gaines on a slug right tackle. We may try to exploit it. Or here is a matchup we like with Quincy Black. Let's stay with this package. Once we get to the game, we can dictate who we are going to go at."

This theoretically will make scouting the Bucs more of a challenge. When a guard or tackle can't predict who will line up across from him, he perhaps has a harder time knowing what to expect.

"That lineman has to study everybody because he'll never know who's going to be down there in front of him," Moore said. "We have all kinds of tricks up our sleeves."

The Bucs expect a strength of their young, inexperienced defense to be speed, which is no small factor in all this.

"When you have four guys who are basically speed rushers, it's very hard for the offensive line to control that and play their game," Wilkerson said. "They have to play our game."

Given the emphasis on the pass rush, that game had better include intensified pressure on quarterbacks.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers must generate fierce pass rush 08/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 10:57am]

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