New coordinator Mike Smith looking for versatility from Bucs defenders

New defensive coordinator Mike Smith says he expects the Bucs’ defensive ends to be able to work as interior pass-rushers.
New defensive coordinator Mike Smith says he expects the Bucs’ defensive ends to be able to work as interior pass-rushers.
Published May 13, 2016

TAMPA — As the Bucs continue their transition to a new defense under coordinator Mike Smith, he has made it clear that the defining aspect will be its multiple looks and roles for players across different positions.

"We're looking for as much flexibility as we possibly can, to be able to scheme against our opponents, to be able to prepare for injuries," Smith said Thursday. "You have to have multiple guys prepared at different positions."

So while the Bucs have only three defensive tackles with significant experience, Smith said he's preparing for a nickel defense — which accounts for about 65 percent of the defensive snaps — to include conventional ends working as interior pass-rushers.

"You've got to have guys who can rush inside, and a lot of our defensive ends in our sub package will be able to move down inside — that's what we're looking for," said Smith, pointing to Robert Ayers, Will Gholston and Kourtnei Brown. "Ayers had very good success last year in New York in terms of his production at the defensive tackle position."

SIGNED: The team signed DE Noah Spence, the first of its two second-round picks, which leaves fellow second-rounder and former Florida State K Roberto Aguayo as the last unsigned draft pick. Spence spent his final season at Eastern Kentucky after two at Ohio State.

IMPRESSED: Defensive line coach Jay Hayes first saw Spence play when he was a Bengals assistant and Ohio State played its spring game at Paul Brown Stadium, and he didn't disappoint that day.

"Noah had like four sacks," Hayes said. "That was my first exposure to him. He's a guy that can put pressure on the passer. He's a guy that is a specialist, and that's what we saw."

Hayes knows Spence especially well because the rookie trained this offseason with Hayes' son Jesse. He likes having a mentoring role with young players, and his message to Spence — who got suspended from Ohio State — will be the same as with any player.

"You're a professional athlete. You have to carry yourself in a certain way. It's time to start acting like an adult," Hayes said. "What I tell them (is) you've got to act like a grown man. There's a lot to that. It's not just being a tough guy. It's making good decisions, on and off the field. That's what I constantly pour into my guys. I don't care if you're a rookie or a 10-year vet."

THIS AND THAT: Smith said the team will utilize a dime package — with six defensive backs — at times as opponents roll out four-WR looks. … Undrafted rookie LB Cassanova McKinzy made a good impression in rookie minicamp and will be in the hunt for a backup job, though those often come down to special teams value. … Special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor said it's too early to evaluate his wide-open options on returns because teams can't use the JUGS football passing machine in practice yet, so catching returns hasn't been a part of team workouts.

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.