Buccaneers looking for familiarity on defense

TAMPA, Fla. -- Lovie Smith is a coach with a strong defensive background. That’s why last year had to be especially painful for him.

In a 2-14 season, the Bucs ranked 25th in the league in total defense. They were 19th against the run and 28th against the pass. In hindsight, Smith has said he and the coaching staff weren’t very familiar with the roster when they took over.

Maybe that’s why Smith is sticking with familiarity as he tries to rebuild the defense. He’s looking for guys that know how to play his Tampa 2 system and he is off to a good start.

The Bucs made their first free-agent signing Wednesday, adding former Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter. He hasn’t played for Smith in the past, but he’s done the next best thing. He played for the Cowboys, where Rod Marinelli is the defensive coordinator.

Smith and Marinelli are exceptionally close and share the same defensive philosophy and scheme. Carter fared well in that scheme last year, recording five interceptions. In theory, Carter should provide an instant upgrade over Mason Foster at middle linebacker because he is good at dropping into coverage.

The coaching staff wasn’t impressed with Foster’s coverage skills last season and that’s why he’s being allowed to leave via free agency.

But middle linebacker isn’t the only position where the Bucs are trying to get better in their pass defense. They’re trying to sign former Chicago safety Chris Conte to a deal.

That would clear the way for the Bucs to release high-priced Dashon Goldson. The coaching staff saw Goldson as a liability in coverage last year and started pulling him on some passing downs as the season went on.

Conte isn’t known as the best cover safety in the league, but Smith knows what he’s getting in Conte. Smith coached Conte in Chicago and knows his strengths and limitations.

Smith is making it a point to be more familiar with his roster this year and that should only help the defense.