TAMPA — It wasn’t until last fall, during a two-day skull session held in the basement of Lovie Smith’s Chicagoland home, that Jeff Tedford really got to know the man who would eventually become his boss.
Before that, Smith and Tedford had met only one time.
That was way back in the late 1990s, when Tedford, then the offensive coordinator at Fresno Sate, dropped by the old One Buc Place to visit one his former quarterbacks, Trent Dilfer.
But as the two men sat in Smith’s basement watching tape and contemplating their next moves in the coaching industry, Smith and Tedford quickly came to realize they share a lot of the same philosophies.
For instance, both believe in building an offensive attack around the ground game, and neither believes in giving an overwhelming amount of the work in that ground game to one running back.
Fast forward to today. Smith and Tedford, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, are putting their philosophies to work in the Bucs’ offense.
Though Smith promises Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin will continue to be the Bucs’ “bell cow,’’ the back’s days of taking 88 percent of the hand-offs, which he did through his first 22 NFL games, are over.
“I don’t believe one guy can carry the load,” Tedford said during a break in Bucs workouts last week. “It’s just too physical. So, I think you need to probably have two or three guys that bring different things to the table.
“You need at least two guys who can spell (the lead back) here and there and keep him healthy. And that’s our goal — to create some depth to where there’s not a drop-off if one guy goes in and the other comes out.”
In terms of numbers, at least, the depth is already in place. If you include the two players listed as fullbacks, the Bucs have eight running backs on the roster. That’s one shy of the number of linebackers.
That number likely will be cut in half by the time the regular season rolls around, but it looks like the workloads of those falling in behind Martin on the depth chart will only increase.
“Doug is our starting tailback,’’ Smith said recently. “He’s on most of the billboards around here and he’s an All-Pro running back, so there is nothing to dislike about Doug Martin.
“At the same time, we want Doug to be around here for many years to come, and that means you need some other guys to come in and spell him now and then. He can’t carry it every second of the way.’’
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time very early in his career when Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp was being pulled off the field on third down.
The same could happen this year to DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Michael Johnson, or maybe even DT Gerald McCoy. So says Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen.
Firing a bit of a warning shot across the bow of his charges, Cullen made it clear playing on third down is a privilege, not a right.
“On third down, you want your best pass rushers on the field, and I’ve told the guys, ‘That’s earned — no matter who it is,’ ” Cullen said. “If that means an end goes inside and a nose tackle or an under tackle goes to the bench, then so be it. That’s the money down, and we have to get off the field there.’’
The likelihood of McCoy or Johnson coming off the field on third down seems pretty slim. Cullen’s message likely was directed at the likes of nose tackles Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence, because Cullen is not opposed to rushing three or even four defensive ends.
“A lot of the ends are going to have to switch inside (on third down), including Michael Johnson, who rushed inside at times in Cincinnati,’’ Cullen said. “Everybody will have to be able to do it, too. And I (know) Clayborn can do it and Will (Gholston) and Da’Quan Bowers have done it, so we have some options there.’’
Prior to joining the Bucs earlier in the year, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had only seen a few eye-popping clips and heard a few good stories about McCoy, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle.
It wasn’t until he started working with him on the field a few weeks ago that Frazier began to realize how special a talent McCoy is and how dedicated he is to being the best player and team leader he can be.
“He’s just a joy,’’ Frazier said. “To have your best player working as hard as he does every single day, he sets a great example for the rest of our defense and really the rest of the team. He’s a tremendous, tremendous leader and an outstanding football player, so I’m really looking forward to watching him when the fall rolls around.”