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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Beat: Defensive line feels sense of ‘freedom’

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Gerald McCoy is a jovial sort, a man slow to anger. If you want to set him off, though, just ask him to run a stunt. Even better, ask him to run them regularly as part of a defensive scheme.

That’s what former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano did, and McCoy so bristled at the idea that the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle eventually went to Schiano and all but demanded that he abandon the practice.

Schiano relented, but only a little. He reduced the number of line stunts he called, but he never completely abandoned the practice of having McCoy run around an end or another tackle on his way to the quarterback.

New Bucs coach Lovie Smith hasn’t completely abandoned the practice, either. McCoy, who is at his best running a beeline to the quarterback, is still running stunts. He’s just not running them as much.

“We’re running way less stunts than we used to,’’ McCoy said as a big, wide-eyed smile came across his face following a workout at One Buc Place last week. “It’s not even close to what we were doing.’’

The same can be said of the Bucs’ defensive philosophy. Out is the man-press scheme that Schiano employed, in is the old zone-based Tampa 2 scheme that Smith learned as a linebackers coach under Tony Dungy back in the late 1990s.

In that scheme, the trick is to pressure the passer using only the four down linemen, leaving the other seven defenders in coverage, where they can concentrate on limiting yards after the catch and taking the ball away.

To achieve that objective, the defensive linemen are coached to take the shortest route possible to the quarterback, which means fewer stunts, and that has McCoy and his fellow linemen playing with a new sense of what they call “freedom.’’

“We’re an up-field, penetrating defense now,’’ McCoy said. “We don’t sit on the line and wait on nobody. They have to adjust to how we play. And that’s the freedom we’re talking about.

“Last year, we were running slants here, going sideways there, that type of thing. Now, we get to get up-field and make them react to us, and that’s why we’re all so excited about playing in this defense.’’

Scrapping scrimmages

The Bucs’ defensive philosophy isn’t the only thing that has changed since Smith took over, of course. The structure of practices is much different, too, and that will continue through training camp.

Whereas Schiano was a big fan of scrimmaging against another team, thinking that players get stale hitting the same teammates every day, Smith has no plans to scrimmage against an NFL rival.

“I’m not one that buys into that,’’ Smith said. “When we go against someone else, we want officials out there, so we’ll go through our routine and use those four preseason games to get ready for the season.”

That daily camp routine will be a little bit different, as well. Unlike Schiano, who worked the Bucs out early in the morning, Smith is expected to begin most camp workouts in the early afternoon.

He is also expected to conduct several late afternoon workouts, his hope being that the players will eventually grow accustomed to the afternoon heat and humidity they’ll play in for the bulk of the regular season.

Three’s a crowd, or not

The Bucs are planning to take four quarterbacks to training camp this year. How many they’ll take into the start of the regular season is up for debate.

Smith said last week that it’s hard to keep three quarterbacks on a regular-season roster, but more often than not, that’s what he has done in the past.

Smith had three quarterbacks on his opening-day roster seven times during his nine years in Chicago, but the two times he carried only two were in the last four years of his tenure.

Whether that’s part of a trend that will continue with the Bucs is hard to tell.

“We all have a record,’’ Smith said. “You look at my record, our record, it’s tough to keep three guys. But if you feel like that third guy is one of the best 53 (players)… For the most part we’ll suit up two quarterbacks (on game day), so you can kind of look at that as far as what direction we’re going to go.”

rcummings@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7979

Twitter: @RcummingsTBO

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