IRVING, Texas – For this week’s episode from The Other Side we bring in long-time Buccaneers’ beat man Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
Todd Archer: What's the biggest difference Greg Schiano has made? When we saw the Bucs last December they seemed, to be polite, disinterested under Raheem Morris?
Rick Stroud: Schiano has done a great job of changing the culture of the Buccaneers. He developed a reputation for being highly organized and a disciplinarian in 11 seasons at Rutgers. But the Bucs had one of the youngest teams in the NFL last season, coming off a lockout, and they didn’t handle their success very well from 2010, when they went 10-6 under Morris.
Schiano has a saying: TBA – Trust, Belief, Accountability. He has weeded out the players who didn’t buy in, as evidenced by the release of S Tanard Jackson and the trade of TE Kellen Winslow and DT Brian Price.
That got the players’ attention. On the field, he is a stickler for details and a bit of a control freak, quite frankly. Nothing escapes his attention, from the way players must have their ‘toes on the line,’ during warm-ups to the temperature in meeting rooms.
TA: What's been the reaction to the kneel-down controversy?
RS: Surprisingly, it’s been split. The Giants and Tom Coughlin obviously didn’t like it. Heck, most of the Bucs own players would only respond by saying they do whatever coach asks them to do. But Schiano is a hard-nosed coach who is trying to get his team to play every play hard. Also, he says that tactic has produced four fumbles at Rutgers in the past five years.
A lot of former players have supported Schiano, who says he has no regret about the move. Among them is Herm Edwards. The former Jets and Chiefs head coach may be just as well known for the hero in the Miracle of the Meadowlands. Edwards returned a fumble from Giants QB Joe Pisarcik 26 yards for a touchdown. What you may not have known was that two plays earlier, the Giants attempted a kneel down and the Eagles fired off the ball. That prompted the Giants to decide to call a running play. Edwards agrees with Schiano, so long as the team is only trailing by one score. But since the Miracle in the Meadowlands, teams have developed the ‘victory formation,’ whereby a receiver or defensive back lines up 10 yards behind the QB in case there is a fumble.
TA: I think Tampa has been a Tampa-2 team since the leather-helmet era, but has there been a change in scheme with Bill Sheridan as coordinator from the Monte Kiffin/Morris led defenses?
RS: Yes. The Bucs, like other teams, still play two deep safeties, but nowhere near as much as they used to. Sheridan likes to apply pressure to the quarterback and mixes up coverage and blitzes. He will bring it in a variety of ways -- linebackers through the A-gap, a linebacker and defensive back stacked, corners off the edge and nickel backs in the slot. Almost always, however, there is a single high safety. From a pass defense standpoint, the Bucs have been riddled for 813 yards passing in the first two games. Sheridan blamed the high number of stunts and games he ordered on the defensive front last week against the Giants and said they will have to curtail those. The other change is that the Bucs linebackers come downhill. They're not running laterally. Rookie Lavonte David has been an impact player.
RS: Jackson, Nicks and Clark have had an instant impact on Freeman’s production. Jackson has been targeted 24 times in two games and has nine catches for 175 yards (19.4 avg) and one touchdown. He’s also created better looks for WR Mike Williams, who has a TD reception in each of the Bucs two games. Nicks has helped in the run game and as a pass protector. Clark caught only one ball in the Bucs win over Carolina, but it was a 33-yarder. Last week, he had four receptions.
RS: Barron has been a quick study and is the big hitter in the secondary the Bucs hoped he would be. His coverage skills are better than advertised and he likely won the game against Carolinawith a late breakup of a pass to Louis Murphy that would’ve gone for a touchdown. Barron is a serious football player who was raised in a pro-style defense under Nick Saban at Alabama. The bright lights of the NFL don’t faze him.