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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Keith Millard feels born again with Bucs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 04:20 PM
TAMPA -

Keith Millard still knows how to get to his target in a hurry.

As a relentless defensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings, Millard earned two Pro Bowl berths and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 after posting 18 sacks.

A generation later, that mark still remains the league single-season standard for interior linemen.

Millard, 49, is now coaching up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' young defensive line, working with Grady Stretz to maximize the skills of a talented group under considerable scrutiny this fall.

"He's just an incredible pass-rush coach,'' rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn said of Millard following Sunday's light morning workout. "He's taught me so many things in just the first three days of camp. It's easy to trust Coach Millard because he's done it.''

Millard knows he has a lot of work to do in a hurry.

Only Denver (23) registered less than Tampa Bay's 26 sacks last season and the Bucs subsequently spent their first two draft picks on Clayborn and fellow end Da'Quan Bowers.

A frustrating lockout that lasted more than four months prevented Millard from working with Bowers, Clayborn and young tackles Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Roy Miller in the offseason.

"That lockout does set you back … no doubt about it,'' Millard said. "My best teaching comes during OTAs because you get to slow things down. You're not on a time restriction and you can work on specific things. You can take a mental step, you can watch film. Now, I'm trying to get these guys out on the field early and we're staying late after practice.''

After coaching stints with the Broncos and Raiders, Millard opened his own training academy to share his secrets of the profession.

In February, at the urging of ex-Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay hired Millard to energize a dormant pass rush.

"He's very technical and he does a good job of telling us what it takes to be a good rusher,'' said Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett. "He tells us we've got to have a plan. He'll say, 'That's not going to work against a Pro Bowler.' His word carries a lot of weight because we know what he's done on the football field.''

A knee injury in 1990 effectively ended Millard's career at the age of 28. He feels born again in Tampa, driven to provide a hungry unit with the savvy to snack on opposing passers.

"If we can stay healthy, get all of our guys back and they keep working like they're working right now,'' Millard said, "this is going to be a hell of a group. It's probably the best group I've ever worked with -- and I've had some good guys like Sapp and Derrick Burgess in Oakland.''

As a player, Millard was known for his intensity and quickness off the snap. His keen anticipation made him one of the league's most disruptive linemen as he developed a variety of moves to confound blockers and hound quarterbacks.

"It's amazing how much the guy knows in terms of technique,'' said Clayborn, who figures to start at right end as a rookie. "He's already tweaking parts of my game to get me to the quarterback faster.''

It took only a few practice sessions for Millard to size up Clayborn.

"I love him, man,'' Millard said. "Quick, violent, good hands, natural bender. At Iowa, they wanted their guys to play tight to the blockers, but we need Adrian to get outside to use that quickness.''

The Bucs made it clear in the draft that upgrading the defensive line was the club's top priority.

While Stretz focuses on a rushing defense that ranked 28th in the league, Millard will try to mold an effective pass rush that generates sacks, pressures and turnovers.

In Millard's first year with the Raiders (2005), Oakland's sack total improved from 24 to 36, with Burgess posting 16 takedowns off the right edge.

"I'm very happy to be here,'' Millard said, "and I owe everything to our coach, Raheem Morris, and GM Mark Dominik for giving me a shot at working with a great group of guys. When I went to Oakland, they were like 32nd in sacks. Our number here in Tampa will not stay where it is. We will get this thing turned around, I promise you.''

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