Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who's really running the defense for the Bucs?

TAMPA

Well, let's see if we can keep track of this thing.

Start with the head coach. He's a defensive guy.

You have the defensive coordinator, of course. They now have an assistant defensive coordinator. The linebackers coach used to be the head coach's defensive coordinator in college.

The new special teams coach (Dave Wannstedt) has never coached special teams a day in his life but has an extensive background coaching defenses. And there's an adviser (Butch Davis) walking around who has one of the sharpest defensive minds in football.

Whether you're talking quality or quantity, few teams can match the Bucs' defensive brain trust.

Too bad the Bucs don't have an actual defense you can trust.

They didn't last year, anyway.

If you're looking for one reason why the Bucs went 7-9, try a defense that allowed more passing yards than any team in the NFL and came just 14 yards shy of being the worst pass defense in league history.

Think back to the blown fourth-quarter leads against the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. Think back to Eli Manning lighting up the secondary for more than 500 yards.

That brings us to 2013 and, suddenly, so many defensive gurus that One Buc Place might not have enough parking spaces for them all.

If you're defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, you're either psyched about being surrounded by some of the best defensive minds in the game or a little jumpy about being surrounded by so many possible replacements.

Then again, who holds the title of defensive coordinator might be a moot point when your head coach is Greg Schiano.

Do you really think a man who is so domineering about the exact temperature in the building isn't more fanatical about whether his team should blitz on third and 5?

"Greg has a tremendous influence over everything that we do,'' Sheridan, 54, said.

"Everything you see out there on Sunday in one way, directly or indirectly, Greg has touched either from way back in the offseason … to how he puts his stamp on it each week during the season. He has his hands on every part of everything we do on offense, defense and special teams.''

Which leads one to ask: Exactly whose defense is this?

"From a starting point, from the basis of it, it's really what Greg has put together even long before he was at Rutgers,'' Sheridan said. "This is his football background.''

So Schiano lays the groundwork, all the coaches implement the details and then comes Sunday.

"Greg lets me make the calls on game day, which I enjoy very much,'' Sheridan said. "But there are very few surprises. He knows what the call sheet looks like and when certain calls are going to be called.

"There are very few surprises where he is second-guessing my calls."

Through much of last season, there was plenty of second-guessing considering the complete meltdown in the secondary.

But let's be fair to Sheridan. That had more to do with a lack of talent than the lack of a good scheme or coaching.

Cornerback Aqib Talib was suspended then traded. Cornerback Eric Wright was suspended and injured. Ronde Barber and Mark Barron were first-time NFL safeties. And the pass rush was nonexistent, partly because of injuries to Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn.

But the Bucs have tried to erase the excuses for 2013.

They traded for shutdown corner Darrelle Revis. They signed Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Bowers and Clayborn are expected back. Barron is a year older. They used their second-round pick to take a cornerback. As long as everyone stays healthy, in theory, the defense should be better.

At the very least, it should be more difficult to play against for other teams.

"No. 1, (I want us to be) physical because that is something you could do regardless of scheme, regardless of talent level,'' Sheridan said. "I want (opponents), when they're getting ready to come in and play us, to think that they're going to get hit and we're going to be physical. And that we play hard.

"And as simple and as corny as that is, that's what Greg preaches to the players and that's what we preach to our guys.''

There's a lot riding on this season for Sheridan. He was an NFL coordinator only one other time in his career. That was in 2009 with the Giants, and he was fired when the defense crumbled down the stretch and gave up the second-most points in franchise history.

Combine that with last year's debacle and Sheridan might not have a lot of wiggle room, especially because expectations are so much higher this season with the additions of Goldson and Revis.

Not that Sheridan is feeling the pressure.

"Not at all,'' he said. "No more than I felt last year. No, our job is to absolutely do the very best job we can and that's what we do. Whether it's perceived that we have improved talent or lesser talent … we coach the guys who are here and we move on and we have the exact same expectations every year, and that's to win.''

If they don't and the defense is to blame, the Bucs might not have to look far to find the next defensive coordinator. He just might be one parking space over.

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected] and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

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