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Lovie Smith ready to take more control of Bucs defense

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, left, talks to players, including Jason Williams, second from left, and  Courtland Clavette, second from right, during an NFL football organized team activity Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)  FLCO104
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, left, talks to players, including Jason Williams, second from left, and Courtland Clavette, second from right, during an NFL football organized team activity Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) FLCO104
Published Jun. 5, 2015

TAMPA — The question to Bucs coach Lovie Smith was straightforward: Are you taking over the defensive play-calling duties this season?

"Who told you that?" Smith said smiling. "Who. Told. You. That?

"As a head football coach, I've always been involved in what we do defensively, and I'm going to be involved defensively this year."

Smith would later admit that, yes, he will be "more involved" with the defense than he was in 2014, when the Bucs finished 25th overall in total defense and allowed 25.6 points per game, the eighth-most in the NFL.

How involved? "I'll be as involved as I need to be," he said.

Let's be clear. Smith did not look like a cat with a mouthful of feathers.

In fact, Smith said that had been the plan all along when he got to Tampa Bay. But with becoming a new head coach, hiring a staff, working with new general manager Jason Licht and dealing with the illness and eventual release of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, Smith was a little busy.

"I'm just saying, when you come in initially, there's a lot of things as a head football coach you have to get into play," Smith said. "We've gotten those things into play. My expertise, I'm a head coach because of what I've done on the defensive side. I've been very involved every year I've been a head coach."

Smith is right. He was a brilliant defensive coordinator with the Rams and as the architect of the Bears' Tampa 2 scheme for nine seasons. And frankly, it's hard to imagine things going much worse than they did last season for the Bucs under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Following a 56-14 drubbing by the Falcons in Week 3 last season, Frazier was moved from the sideline to upstairs in the coaching box. Not to make excuses for Frazier, but aside from Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, the team had no top-rung players on defense last season.

If, and only if Smith were eventually to decide to take over the defensive-play calling duties, it wouldn't be his first time.

After the Bears finished 28th (354.7 yards per game) in 2007 and 21st in 2008 (334.7 ypg) under then-defensive coordinator Bob Babich, Smith started calling plays while Babich retained his title. Chicago improved slightly under Smith in 2009 to 17th in total defense and tied for 21st in points (23.4).

Former Bucs coach Raheem Morris did the same after firing defensive coordinator Jim Bates 10 games into his inaugural 3-13 season in 2009. The next year, the team went 10-6, climbing from 27th in total defense to 17th.

During Thursday's offseason practice that was open to the media, Smith was front and center near the line of scrimmage between plays, barking orders to his defense while Frazier appeared to follow the script of practice plays while standing on the sideline.

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What would Frazier say if asked who was calling the defensive plays Thursday? "He's going to say we don't talk about who is doing what," Smith said. "I've always been involved. I've always gotten my calls in throughout every year I've been coaching ball. Nothing is going to change.

"I don't know where anyone would get that. But what I'm saying is I'm more involved than I've been and that's the plan, to be more involved than I've been, not just with the defense but our entire football team.

Smith has a lot of confidence in Frazier, but nobody knows how the Tampa 2 scheme should be run better than the Bucs' head coach. Why not call the plays? Looks like that idea hasn't popped in his head like a cartoon light bulb just yet.

"I would know that and that has not been discussed with our staff," he said.