What’s a ‘D-Coordinator’ To Do?


In 2013, the Bucs finished 32nd in total offense in the NFL. In some ways, it may seem to rank the Bucs that high is unfair.

Image result for Jason licht lovie smithWhen Jason Licht and Lovie Smith took over in ’14, they decided the offense would be the focal point and responded by drafting 12 of 13 offensive players in the 2014 and 2015 drafts. The only defensive player—a must have linebacker, Kwon Alexander of LSU in the 4th Round of the 2015 draft. Drafting offense comes with consequences, especially when the Bucs were not landing the defensive players they were pursuing, i.e., in 2015, Jared Allen went 17 – 2 with the Panthers in pursuit of his elusive Super Bowl Ring and Dwight Freeney went 13 – 6 coming up short in his attempt to add another Ring to his trophy case in the Falcons loss to the Patriots.


Bottom line—it’s hard getting good help with a bad team. You have to help yourself. Solid vets want to go where they have a chance.


The Bucs have six (6) playoff wins in forty-two (42) years.


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Though the Bucs prospects looked good in 2015, the Bucs had a lot of new moving parts to include a rookie QB, Jameis Winston and two All-Rookie offensive lineman, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith. However, with a thin defense that had not been properly addressed via the draft and free agency, the Bucs went 0 – 4 to end the season without their most needed rookie, Kwon Alexander, after a suspension. After a 6 – 6 start, the Bucs stumbled down the stretch in Lovie Smith’s final year.


Enter Mike Smith in 2016.


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Smith came in like gangbusters, reviewing tape, consulting with his staff, making moves trying to do anything he could with the free agency, draft and undrafted free agency periods. He brought in six defensive backs, i.e., Brent Grimes, Isaiah Johnson, Javien Elliot, Josh Robinson, Vernon Hargreaves III, and Ryan Smith. This indicates he’d seen plenty of film on Jonathan Banks, Alterraun Verner, etc. Though Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David were superb linebackers, the second level was a thin and in came veteran Daryl Smith and developmental draft pick Devante Bond, the Oklahoma Sooner. Licht and Mike Smith also brought in defensive ends, free agent Robert Ayers, Jr., two developmental additions in Ryan Russell and Devonte Lambert and 2nd round draft choice, Noah Spence.

Obviously, the revamping worked to an extent as the Bucs finished 9th in sacks, 2nd in forced turnovers and 1st in 3rd down efficiency.


However, something more startling was happening on the offensive side—27 turnovers.


Having a turnover prone offense and small defensive tackles are a bad mix.


Image result for Bucs defensive tackles getting bulldozedAkeem Spence and Clinton McDonald were capable, but playing in tight games with heavy snap counts, they were facing 650+ pounds of opponents two-man sleds and getting invariably bounced and dribbled late in games. They often ended up in the laps of Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David and Daryl Smith. The Bucs finished up 22nd in the league in stopping the run. Mike Smith was beginning to sound alarm bells and the Bucs scouting department added Sealver Siligia in late 2016 and Chris “Swaggy” Baker via free agency in early 2017. Licht also spent the #223 pick of the 2017 draft on Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, the USC Trojan.


Would this be enough to fix what Smith was voicing his concerns about?


Baker, Siligia, and Tu’ikolovatu looked like the body-types that could get Mark Ingram, Jonathan Stewart, and Devonta Freeman horizontal to the line of scrimmage, however, Baker was 30 and a veteran of many NFL wars. He had shoulder problems that probably surpassed Siligia in severity that led to his release by the Patriots. Plus, Baker had bad knees as well and spent as much time during the season with the trainers as with his teammates. He could put in some superb performances as in both games against the Panthers and also against the Dolphins.

Image result for siliga, bakerHowever, he also could put up some duds (see any Falcons game). He was adequate every over week and the fact that Tu’ikolovatu injured his meniscus and never played a snap impacted distribution of workload. Plus, Devonte Lambert, who can play inside or outside was lost for the season as well. That, along with the injury to Noah Spence and the release of Jacquies Smith, and the Bucs were running short on capable bodies. But the inability of Sealver Siligia and inconsistency of Chris “Swaggy” Baker coupled with the injury to Stevie Tu’ikolovatu posed film-evident issues as the Bucs finished last in five (5) different categories to include sacks and total yards. Obviously, sacks are kind of a function of having a competent point-producing offense that gains or builds leads (see Eagles). However, 22 sacks is an absurdity and largely the reason the Bucs gave up 260 passing yards a game.


How did the Bucs respond since 2017?


Releasing 33 year-old Daryl Tapp, 32 year old Robert Ayers, Jr., 31 year old Chris “Swaggy” Baker, 31 year old Clinton McDonald, along with Ryan Russell and Sealver Siligia, who are proven non-impactful journeyman. And—the firing of defensive line coach, Jay Hayes. The subtractions are important, but the additions are striking.


Mike Smith–apparently Koetter and Licht heard you.


Image result for jason pierre paul bucs campLicht and Koetter have a penchant for hooking themselves up with offensive goodies that neither have displayed any idea how to use—in three years in Tampa. This offseason, Licht added stellar run-stuffers, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. He also signed defensive end, Vinny Curry, who is equally capable against the pass or run, and traded the Bucs’ 2018 #68 pick to the N.Y. Giants for Jason Pierre-Paul. And Licht added the guy, who I think was the best defensive lineman in the draft, Washington Husky, Vita Vea. And I get that defensive ends lead the need parade around the NFL, but stopping the run is what creates the down-‘n’-distance that can make Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, or Noah Spence, stars.


Teams that are successful around the league invest in tanks.


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Defensive lineman and cornerbacks are your tanks. Licht has been at the helm for the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 drafts. He has never drafted a defensive tackle that has played an NFL snap. He’s only drafted one defensive end, Noah Spence, who has largely been available for comment. He’s talented, but the Bucs need him and his often surgically repaired limbs on the field.

Additionally, Vernon Hargreaves III and Brent Grimes missed a lot of snaps due to injury in 2017. Justin Evans had a late-season ankle injury as well.


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Drafting M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis, and Jordan Whitehead are superb depth and development moves—and all three add a toughness that has been lacking in Tampa Bay. They are reliable edge-setters and arrive at ball carriers with pad-level. Bucs secondary coaches, Jon Hoke and Brett Maxie knew exactly what they were looking at and they are starting with good players.


Is it enough?


The recipe is there and our defensive coaches have been starved for years of premium talent. That’s clearly no longer the case in Tampa Bay. Even if the offense continues to roam between the 20s without scoring touchdowns and leading the league in fumbles as they have in 2016 and ’17, the talent is there on the defense to ameliorate the Bucs recent losing tradition. And NFC South opponents are aware and should beware.