Tampa Bay took to the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday for the first mini-camp in the Lovie Smith era. With a long history of working with the Tampa 2, Smith didn’t spend too much time observing the defense on Tuesday as he focused on the offensive side of the ball. Smith was seen hanging around offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and watching the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs mostly.
The defense is in good hands with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a former coordinator under Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, as well as the former Minnesota Vikings head coach. Frazier is well versed in the Tampa 2 defense and he and Smith share the same defensive philosophy in terms of defensive scheme and the importance of creating takeaways.
PewterReport.com attended Tuesday’s mini-camp and made the following depth chart observations with regards to Tampa Bay’s defense.
DEFENSIVE LINEAs expected, Adrian Clayborn took the starting snaps at left defensive end on Tuesday opposite newly acquired right defensive end Michael Johnson. With defensive end Da’Quan Bowers sitting out the practice with a minor injury, Will Gholston backed up Clayborn at left end and Steven Means backed up Johnson on the right side.
At defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald were the starters, which was no surprise. Akeem Spence, a starter last year during his rookie season, was the backup nose tackle and Matthew Masifilo was backing up McCoy at the three-technique position, as was Everett Dawkins.
With limited contact allowed during the non-padded mini-camp, it’s difficult to judge the effectiveness of the defensive linemen and the offensive linemen in the trenches. Such evaluations will be left for training camp when the pads come on and the opportunity for greater physical contact exists.
Defensive line coach Joe Cullen didn’t disappoint. He’s sure to become a favorite of Bucs fans with his high-energy, fiery demeanor. Cullen and his mentor, former Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, are truly kindred spirits.
LINEBACKERSThe starting linebackers were obviously Lavonte David at the weakside (Will) position, Mason Foster at middle (Mike) linebacker and Jonathan Casillas at the strongside (Sam) linebacker spot. Dane Fletcher was the backup Mike and Danny Lansanah also took reps at middle linebacker.
Ka’lil Glaud took snaps at the Sam linebacker spot with the second team and Demaso Munoz was the second-string Will linebacker. This Tampa Bay linebacking corps is an undersized, yet very fast unit. Lansanah is the biggest linebacker at 255 pounds, followed by the 245-pound Fletcher, while Casillas is 227 pounds and Munoz weighs 219.
In their heyday, the Bucs linebackers were undersized with weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and strongside Shelton Quarles typically under 230 pounds, while middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who is Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach, was about 235 pounds.
SECONDARYNewly acquired Alterraun Verner manned the starting left cornerback position on Tuesday and showed supreme quickness and the ability to cover. Jonathan Banks, who started last year as a rookie and had three interceptions, started at right cornerback on Tuesday. He’ll be battling Mike Jenkins for the right to start at the right cornerback. All three “starting cornerbacks” showed well and while Banks gave up a few receptions to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, he also broke up a pass.
Smith likes big cornerbacks, and this unit has some size, especially Banks and Rashaan Melvin, who are both 6-foot-2. Danny Gorrer and Bobby Felder round out the cornerbacks.
Smith and Frazier have designated the nickel cornerback to be its own position in this defense, and have its own position coach in Larry Marmie. The Bucs currently have three nickel cornerbacks, including Leonard Johnson, who got the starting reps on Tuesday and was the Bucs’ nickel cornerback last year, D.J. Moore, who has experience as the nickel corner under Smith in Chicago, and Deveron Carr.
Cornerbacks coach Gil Byrd is a very vocal technician and emphasized footwork during the individual period, saying that a tight stance where the feet are close together during a back pedal allows the cornerback to quickly transfer his weight and drive on the ball.
At one point during practice, Byrd, who has a friendly, but intense demeanor, turned to his players and told them, “If I’m making a statement, I don’t want a reply from you. If I’m asking you a question, that’s when I want a reply from you.” That was Byrd’s way of quickly establishing his leadership on the field.
With starting safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson in attendance, but not participating in Tuesday’s practice, Keith Tandy, who had three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery last year for Tampa Bay, and Major Wright manned the safety positions at One Buccaneer Place. Wright has experience in Smith’s version of the Tampa 2 having been drafted by him four years in Chicago. The fact that Goldson is on a short leash with the NFL front office might get suspended again with one more targeting flag from the officials, Wright may get called into action as a starter at some point this provided he makes the roster.
Tandy, who entered the NFL as a cornerback out of West Virginia, told PewterReport.com that his move to safety was permanent and that he has not been told to cross-train at the cornerback or nickel corner positions.
Bradley McDougald and Kelcie McCray were the second-team safeties on Tuesday, and got a sizeable amount of reps, but once Goldson and Barron return to the starting lineup they will be reduced to third-teamers on the depth chart. Both McDougald and McCray flashed some of their talent, but each dropped an interception.
The safety position is coached by Mikal Smith, who is Lovie’s son, and he’s a very talkative, upbeat, up-tempo coach that reminds some of former Bucs secondary coach Mike Tomlin.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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