TAMPA — Anticipating the challenges that lie ahead, the Bucs have consistently devoted time during training camp to preparing for the lineup of 3-4 defenses it faces this season.
Three of the first four opponents during the regular season — Browns, Steelers and Bengals — run defenses that primarily use three down linemen and four linebackers, a scheme the Bucs don't see in practice from coach Raheem Morris' 4-3.
Each day, rather than using a segment to fine-tune schemes from the playbook, the Bucs prepare for elements it will see from specific opponents. Many of those periods have focused on the 3-4.
"We just said, 'Hey, let's identify those teams that are going to create some problems for us and let's get a jump-start on them in training camp," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said.
The challenges of facing a 3-4 boil down to blocking assignments, which are drastically different than against a 4-3.
"It's the mismatches, trying to get big linebackers on smaller (running) backs and taking advantage of some of those matchups," Morris said. "It's the (pressure) you can bring by bringing (rushers) from all over the place."
The approach might not be the same for all 3-4 teams.
"Depending on who those outside linebackers are, you have to decide whether we've got a running back that's physically able enough to handle the outside rushers," Olson said.
"Then that creates a difference in your scheme up front and (determines) whether you're going to (move) your offensive linemen out to the big guys and leave your running backs up inside. You have to have a way to account for those guys and try to eliminate the mismatches with your running backs."
The growing number of teams using the 3-4 prompted the Bucs to spend more time than usual in the offseason working on concepts for it.
"Six, seven years ago, because of the few teams that were running it, it was hard to prepare for it in a one-week period," Olson said. "Now that so many teams are running it, we've had a chance to work on it in the spring. And we've had a chance to work on it in June, and we're getting a chance to work on it now.
"It does still create some problems. It's not the old, traditional four-down front you've seen in NFL football for years. But we're having a chance to work on it."
DAY OF REST: The Bucs had Sunday off, enjoying a needed physical and mental break after a grueling first week.
Players were permitted to go home after Saturday night's practice at Raymond James Stadium and were free until Sunday night's curfew at the team hotel. They're back in action this morning for a single practice at One Buc Place.
"The bad part of camp is not the practicing," LB Barrett Ruud said. "It's just doing the same thing over and over again. It's like Groundhog Day. That's what's bad about it. Everybody just wants to sit on the couch all day and not have to be anywhere for a change."
Players also appreciate the chance to get back to familiar surroundings.
"I've gotten home for about an hour or so a few times (last week)," Ruud said. "Enough time to check the mail."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]