TAMPA — Though he certainly tried, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith seldom succeeded in disguising the defensive scheme he ran during his nine years as coach of the Chicago Bears.
He’s not doing a very good job of disguising his defensive intentions here, either.
New Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said during his introductory news conference Wednesday the Bucs will employ a defensive scheme that looks a lot like the one Smith used in Chicago. That means the Bucs will be playing a lot of cover 2 — or Tampa 2, as it has come to be known — and that means they might have to add a few more pieces to the defensive side of the ball than some people might have thought.
Unlike the attacking style the Bucs had with former coach Greg Schiano, the Tampa 2 is a zone-based scheme that calls for the bulk of the pressure to come from the front four while the linebackers stay back in coverage.
It is a system that requires dynamic speed and athleticism more than size and thump. The Bucs already have that at defensive tackle and weakside linebacker, but they might be lacking it in three key spots, Frazier said.
“It definitely helps that you have two guys (in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and weakside linebacker Lavonte David) that are playing at a Pro Bowl caliber at those two key positions,” Frazier said. “But this game is the ultimate team game, so you do need those other pieces in place in order to get the defense to that elite level, and that will be the challenge ahead of us this offseason.”
The challenge begins up front, where the Bucs will be on the lookout for a dynamic defensive end that can beat double teams and chip blockers and get to the quarterback the way Simeon Rice did in the team’s’ glory days.
The Bucs thought they might have been getting that when they drafted Adrian Clayborn 20th overall two years ago, but Clayborn has yet to show that ability consistently, though Frazier is not ready to rule him out just yet.
“I want to continue to study him a little bit,” Frazier said of Clayborn, who ranked second on the team in sacks with six last year. “He’s one of those guys we are going to spend a lot of time evaluating to make sure we do the right thing by him.
“I remember him coming out of college when we were scouting him and had a lot of respect for his play at the University of Iowa, and I want to get a better feel for him as an NFL player.”
Clayborn was drafted to be a right end but wound up playing on the left side a lot in Schiano’s scheme. He might be on the left side in the new defense as well if the Bucs find an upgrade at right end.
Another new piece might be at middle linebacker, where Mason Foster has been a fixture since the Bucs drafted him in the third round in 2011. Foster was a perfect fit in Schiano’s defense because he excels in an attack-oriented scheme. But the Tampa 2 requires the middle linebacker to excel in coverage against second receivers, and that’s where Foster has struggled.
He had the second-worst average of yards allowed per snap in coverage last year among all inside linebackers, according to ProFootballFocus, and gave up more touchdowns (four) than all but two inside backers.
Frazier was not asked specifically about Foster during his initial news conference, but he suggested middle linebacker was an area of need while talking about all of the key pieces that make the Tampa 2 work.
“The (defensive tackle and weakside linebacker) along with the pass rusher and a corner that can tackle as well as cover will really help to solidify this defense,” Frazier said. “And you need a (middle) linebacker than can function as well, but we have two pieces in place with Gerald and Lavonte, and that gives you a chance now to add to some of those other areas.”
The last of those areas is cornerback.
Smith and Frazier have said they will find a way to maximize cornerback Darrelle Revis’ skills, which suggests he might often play man-to-man while the rest of the secondary plays zone.
But the need for a corner that can “tackle as well as cover” might force the Bucs to look for an upgrade on rookie Johnthan Banks, who often struggled as a tackler in college and as an NFL rookie.
Banks had the fifth-most missed tackles (13) among cornerbacks last year and ranked fifth-worst in tackling efficiency, according to ProFootballFocus. Still, Frazier seems to believe he has a keeper in Banks.
“I had a chance to watch him in depth coming out of college and got some brief views of him (last year), and I’ll watch more over the next few days, but he seems to have the qualities that you look for in this system,” Frazier said.
“I have to study him some more, but I just remember (when he was) coming out (of college last year), he was one of those guys that we gave a high grade to.
“As for those other spots, whether it’s through the draft or free agency, we’ll fill in those other pieces and get the defense where we want it. But we do have a great starting point with (McCoy and David), that’s for sure.”