TAMPA – New coaches bring new theories, new techniques and a new way of doing things. And so it is along the Buccaneers defensive line, where nose tackle Roy Miller is learning a new stance for the third time in as many years as a pro.
"It's kind of crazy, but I like it,'' Miller said of the change, which is designed to improve a Bucs defense that has struggled to get to the passer and stop the run for at least as long as Miller has been here.
The Bucs sack total fell from 28 to 26 last year and while they did trim 28 yards off their opponents' rushing average, the Bucs still ranked 28th in the league in that discipline, surrendering 131 yards per game.
Keith Millard and Grade Stretz, the Bucs two new defensive line coaches, think they know why. When they first sat down to dissect film of their new players, they noticed their stances were a little "outdated.''
Instead of being lined up square to the line of scrimmage and face to face with their opposing offensive linemen, the Bucs defensive linemen were lining up at a 45-degree angle to the line and their opponent.
That's called a "tilted'' stance and while some players such as Warren Sapp have built extraordinary careers by exploding out of it, the stance is one that has some flaws and drawbacks to it, Millard said.
For starters, it makes it easier for a charging offensive lineman to move past their defensive counterpart on a run play, because that counterpart is positioned a lot like a half-open door.
The titled stance also makes it hard for a player to chase down a play that goes in the opposite direction from where they're headed because it takes several steps to turn and head back the other way.
Finally, it robs a lot of players of anywhere from a step to a step and a half in their pass rush, because their first move is not directly up field. The squared stance changes all of that, Millard said.
"There are a lot more strengths in our opinion to being squared up,'' Stretz said. "Most of all, we think it's a lot more beneficial in terms of being able to penetrate (the line of scrimmage) and get into the backfield.
"There's a half step less you have to take to get in there this way, you're able to get your hands on the offensive lineman a lot quicker with this and you don't get (twisted out of your gap) as often.
"I mean, there are a few blocking schemes where it's an advantage to be in a tilt but when you look at the big picture and the schemes we're facing, it's a lot more advantageous to square the guys off.''
As advantageous as it may be, the Bucs linemen won't use the squared stance exclusively. Their plan is to mix it up a little but, but more often than not, they'll square up, especially in the middle of the line.
Gerald McCoy, the Bucs second-year under tackle, is on board with that idea. Already, he said, he is noticing the benefits of the squared stance. He said the tilt stance loosened him up but the squared stance is more effective.
"I've been in the backfield a lot more (in practice) than I ever was before, because I'm right there on a guy at the snap and if he overreaches, it's like, boom, I'm in the backfield,'' he said.
"I don't have to worry as much about being in my gap, because if I take a step and I'm already in the backfield, then they have to decide what to do with me and that's disruption, and that's what we want.''
Disruption isn't the only thing the Bucs are after. They want to increase their sack total and greatly reduce opponents rushing totals against them. That's why Bucs coach Raheem Morris is welcoming the change.
"I'm loving it,'' said Morris, who also serves as the Bucs defensive coordinator. "I'm one of those coaches that is willing to explore things, and I'm liking this.''
So is tackle Brian Price. He's learning a new stance for the second time in as many years as a pro, but he said he doesn't mind making the change because he's convinced it will make him and the Bucs better.
"It's the right thing to do,'' he said. "I mean, if you want to be the best you have to be open to suggestions, and Coach Millard played in this game for a while (nine years, two Pro Bowls) and he knows and he knows what he's doing.''
Even Miller, who spent his first year playing in former coordinator Jim Bates antiquated two-gap scheme and his second year tilted in Morris's one-gap scheme, likes the new stance.
"You can play more laterally this way,'' Miller said. "It gives you the opportunity to fire off the (at the snap) and really knock the guy backwards while keeping your shoulders square.
"That allows you to adjust a lot quicker to play that's going the other way or away from you. So it's something new, and we have to learn and adjust to it, but we're all starting to get it down pretty good I think.''