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Assistants set new standard

Remember all the hand-wringing a year ago over losing Herman Edwards and Lovie Smith off the Bucs defensive staff in the same season?

To make it more disconcerting, Tampa Bay hired Mike Tomlin and Joe Barry, young assistants with virtually no NFL experience, to coach the secondary and linebackers, respectively.

There's no minimizing the job done by Edwards, the Jets head coach, and Smith, the Rams defensive coordinator, during their five seasons with the Bucs.

But Tomlin and Barry didn't just live up to the standard set by those coaches. They raised it.

Under Tomlin, the Bucs are ranked No. 1 in pass defense and lead the NFL in interceptions with 18. Six interceptions have been made by Barry's linebackers. Four of them belong to Derrick Brooks, who has returned three for touchdowns.

Barry, the son-in-law of Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, also has orchestrated the switch of Shelton Quarles to middle linebacker. Quarles has responded by tying Brooks for the team lead in tackles and helping the defense maintain its No. 1 ranking.

As it turns out, the shadows cast by Edwards and Smith weren't so long after all.

"I'm just proud of the way the players have responded," Tomlin said. "I was going to coach the same way regardless of what happened. It's all about winning. Where you're ranked is not important. I'm pretty sure the New England Patriots secondary felt pretty good about themselves because they were being fitted for Super Bowl rings."

PREVENT DEFENSE: After watching his defense blow fourth-quarter leads in five of their six losses this season, Carolina coach John Fox is taking no chances.

The Panthers worked repeatedly on a defensive two-minute drill.

"It's up to the individual who wants to say, "Look, I'm tired of this happening, and I'm going to take it upon myself to get it done,' " Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete said of the collapses.

SOUND MACHINE: It's one thing for a team to pipe in crowd noise during practice to prepare its offense for a road game. But for a home game?

Yet, that's what happened when Bucs coach Jon Gruden ordered that the speakers be turned on in preparation for Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium.

This time, the benefactor was the Bucs defense.

"Defensive players actually want it," Gruden explained. "One of the things we've made as a theme here is we have not, in our opinion, played together and played our best football at home yet. I'm talking about all three phases. At times, we've played better on offense, we've played good on defense, or special teams have played solid.

"But we want to get the crowd into the game and we want to show them how it's going to sound like from a defensive standpoint.

"They're not going to hear each other communicate on defense, and Carolina has got a lot of shifts, different formations. We count on this crowd. We're going to try and get them off their seats and give them something to be excited about. It's going to create some problems defensively communicating."