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Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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New D-line coach Brentson Buckner wants to make Bucs pass rush great again

This isn't the first time Brentson Buckner has wanted to get closer to the Bucs defensive line.

As a defensive tackle for the Panthers, Buckner's team went 7-9 in 2002, the inaugural season for the NFC South.

Tampa Bay won the division that year, and when it hosted a NFC division playoff game against the 49ers, Buckner was in a seat at Raymond James Stadium.

"I came down right here for the first playoff game and watched,'' said Buckner, who was introduced Wednesday as the Bucs' defensive line coach. "Me, (defensive line teammates) Kris Jenkins, Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers, as much as we disliked (Bucs defensive tackle) Warren Sapp, we admired what they did. And I wanted to see what kind of atmosphere they would create when they came out, the energy with which they played with. And to see those guys run out of the tunnel on Sunday, you thought it was an earthquake.

"And I remember calling Mike Rucker from the stands and was like, 'This is what we've got to create in Carolina. They're doing this with their front four. It's not the quarterback running out. It's not the star running back. This is the defensive line that's being introduced.' We wanted what those guys created here, and we tried our best to get it.''

Now it will be Buckner's job to help Tampa Bay get it back.

The Bucs defense finished last in the NFL in sacks last season with 22. Six weeks after the season, coach Dirk Koetter fired defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

Buckner, 46, spent the past five years coaching the Cardinals defensive line. They never finished with fewer than 35 sacks in a season during that time. In fact, two years ago, they led the league with 48. Last season, Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones led the league with 17.

What the Bucs get with Buckner is a high-energy guy who isn't far removed from his playing days — his career ended after the 2005 season. He was part of a dominating Panthers defensive line that lost 32-29 to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, a year after the Bucs had won the Lombardi Trophy.

"If I tell you to keep your pads down because they'll drive you off the ball on a double team and you'll get slammed, I can pull it up through a 12-year career where that's happened to me,'' Buckner said.

"I think this generation of players is more, "Well, show me what you've done.' "

Let's be honest, Buckner doesn't have a lot to work with.

"You start with Gerald McCoy,'' he said of the six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle. "There's 31 others teams that would like to start there.''

Noah Spence hasn't been able to overcome his right shoulder injury. The team is still undecided about whether to bring back fellow end Robert Ayers, who is 32, had two sacks in 2017 and has missed eight games in the past two years. End William Gholston went without a sack last season.

But Koetter says Buckner has a history of doing more with less. "What is most impressive to me has been his ability to consistently develop some lesser-known players into very productive contributors on a top defensive line unit," Koetter said.

Not many players from Buckner's era went into coaching. The hours are too long. They've already made a fortune. But Buckner couldn't get football out of his blood.

He started by coaching a high school defensive line, then he became the head coach.

"Then I decided to do the ultimate: I'm going to coach 7- and 9-year-olds,'' he said.

When he helps an NFL player improve, the feeling is the same.

"You see that 7-year-old in that grown man,'' Buckner said.

Buckner said he has talked to Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, and he shares their vision about what the Bucs' defensive line can become.

"We're going to hunt until the whistle blows,'' he said. "We don't want nobody to feel comfortable. Because all week long, that offensive line has told that coach and that quarterback and running back, we can run this play and we can block those guys. And we're going to take that personally.

"We're not going to go looking for a fight, we're going to invite a fight when that ball is snapped, because we want to be vicious. We want our play to precede us when we walk into a stadium. We want them to say, 'We know when the Bucs step onto the field, it's going to be a battle.' We might not win them all, but your training room is going to look like we did.''

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