It’s clear that after almost three years Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith still hasn’t figured out how to make the team’s defense better. The Bucs should consider replacing him with defensive line coach Brentson Buckner.
In 2018 there are no more excuses left for a once brilliant coach. Like another defensive mind who struck gold once—former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith—the NFL game has passed Smith by. The game against the Chicago Bears proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the defense is too much of a liability. When the Bucs do win, the team wins in spite of them.
Ranking at the bottom every year he’s been the DC, this year included, he needs to go sooner rather than later. If head coach Dirk Koetter’s loyalty to him is too strong, then there’s a good chance he’ll follow Smith out the door.
The postgame conference following the Bears game serves as a chilling reminder that Koetter admitted in a not-so-candid moment that his entire team deserves to be out of a job. It seemed to be an attempt at reverse psychology to psyche up his team in the bye week and beyond, but the team hasn’t really shown signs of a turnaround.
Changes in play calling with offensive coordinator Todd Monken have finally shown fans a greater picture of the potential the offense can reach. Free agent acquisitions Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinnie Curry were supposed to affect the defensive line to the point where the whole unit benefited. Unfortunately, injuries and lack of quality depth in the secondary serve as a reminder of how fragile the defense still is.
What didn’t help was a controversial first round pick, defensive tackle Vita Vea, who only saw his first regular season action against the Bears after nursing an injury that kept him out of much of the first quarter of the season. Many thought they would pick safety Derwin James out of Florida State. James ended up with the Los Angeles Chargers five picks later.
Now why should the Bucs seriously consider Buckner?
Firstly, he’s not as tainted by the culture of losing and mediocrity as most of the defense is. Secondly, he’s a young and upcoming defensive mind. Thirdly, from 2015 on, the Arizona Cardinals’ defense regularly finished 5th and 6th in total defense under DC James Bettcher with Buckner as DL coach. The Cards led the NFL in sacks, fumbles forced, and second in fumbles recovered in 2016.
The Bucs have already registered 8 sacks four games into the season. The team finished with 22 and dead last in the NFL in 2017. The team is currently on pace to 32. You can attribute the additional sacks to the first two games when their opponents fell behind and they were forced to abandon the run early, creating more opportunities for sacks and the presence of Pierre-Paul and Curry. One thing you can’t deny is that Buckner is showing results or at least improvement in pass rush that was visibly absent all of last year. Prior to his job with the Cards, he studied with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was also part of the vaulted Carolina Panthers’ defensive line, helping propel the team to Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots.
Whether it’s during midseason or off, the Bucs need to send Smith packing.