COMMENTARY | Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may naturally concentrate on the offseason need to improve an offense that posted a league-worst 277 yards per game in 2013. While that task must receive the highest importance, supporters should not forget the bread-and-butter of new head coach Lovie Smith is defense.
As a former pupil of legendary defensive-minded leaders, such as Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin, the Bucs' new coach will surely demand progress on the defensive side of the ball. The challenge appears less intimidating than bolstering an offense led by young quarterback Mike Glennon. Yet, even with talent like Gerald McCoy and Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay still ranked in the NFL's bottom third of defenses last year.
To assemble a new coaching staff at One Buc Place, Smith largely turned to veteran assistants with shared roots in his nine seasons as coach of the Chicago Bears from 2004 to 2012. Such common backgrounds provide Smith with the advantage of working with familiar skills and expectations. However, some may question if the connection to an underachieving team that fired him is too strong.
Perhaps anticipating such concerns, Smith brought in a familiar name -- with no link to Chicago -- to coordinate his defense in Tampa Bay. Though Leslie Frazier did participate in a rivalry with the Bears as coach of the Minnesota Vikings, the Bucs' new defensive coordinator clearly adds significant experience to the team's staff.
Here is a look at the new defensive coaches for the Tampa Bay Bucs:
Leslie Frazier -- Defensive coordinator:
Though this is Frazier's first stop in Tampa Bay, the former NFL head coach shares the experience of working under Tony Dungy in common with Smith. After a decade in coaching, Frazier's stock skyrocketed when he joined Dungy to shape the offensively-loaded Indianapolis Colts into a team also possessing a championship-caliber defense. Frazier was the team's defensive backs coach in 2006, when the Colts overcame Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Following that successful effort, Frazier was named defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, where he became part of the team's NFC North rivalry with Smith's Bears. After working under Brad Childress for four seasons, the former safety was named interim-coach of the Vikings in 2010 and Frazier continued in that position on a full-time basis the following year. Frazier's club surprised in 2012 with a 10-6 record that was good enough to reach the playoffs, but a miserable 4-12 record in 2013 cost his job.
In leading Minnesota, Frazier disappointed with a 21-32-1 overall record, but his defenses generally performed better than his record would indicate. Much like Dungy, Frazier depended on strong play from his defensive linemen and consistently emphasized winning the turnover battle. The 54-year-old will now help Smith implement the "Tampa 2" defense with the Bucs, which relies on an athletic defensive line, versatile linebackers, and coverage help in the secondary.
Kevin O'Dea -- Special-teams coordinator:
A big part of the new Chicago connection in Tampa Bay, this coordinator previously worked on Smith's staff with the Bears, where he was assistant special teams coach on the squad that went to the Super Bowl in 2006. O'Dea worked closely with return-wizard Devin Hester in that capacity and would undoubtedly relish developing a similar weapon for the Bucs. The 53-year-old has additionally led special teams for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. He began his NFL coaching career by working with Smith on Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay from 1996 to 2001.
Joe Cullen -- Defensive line coach:
Unable to sign friend Rod Marinelli, who remains under contract with the Dallas Cowboys, Smith turned to this veteran assistant to lead the defensive line. Cullen most recently handled the D-line for the Cleveland Browns, where he helped the 2013 team accrue a franchise-high in sacks for over a decade. The former nose guard at University of Massachusetts previously worked in the same capacity for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions. Cullen notoriously made headlines for an embarrassing 2006 arrest, after going through a fast-food drive-thru naked. Smith undoubtedly has been assured such problems will not resurface at the burger joints of Tampa.
Hardy Nickerson -- Linebackers coach:
Likely the most popular hire for Tampa Bay's new staff, this former linebacker played for the Bucs for seven seasons during the club's resurgence in the 1990's. Nickerson excelled under Tony Dungy as a smart and athletic middle linebacker, who was named to five Pro Bowls during a 16-year career. The 48-year-old entered broadcasting upon retirement, before returning to the sidelines to coach linebackers for Smith in Chicago during the 2007 season. Nickerson has since worked in high school football in his native California, but now inherits a unit featuring one of the NFL's top young linebackers in Lavonte David.
Mikal Smith -- Safeties coach:
As the oldest of Lovie Smith's three children, Mikal will be reunited with his father in 2014 by coaching safeties for the Buccaneers. The 37-year-old last worked as a defensive-back coach under Kiffin on Dallas' staff in 2013. Smith played safety for the University of Arizona and originally entered coaching in the NFL by working on the Bears' staff from 2010 to 2012.
Gill Byrd -- Cornerbacks coach:
Providing additional playing experience to the team's position coaches, this former cornerback enjoyed a 10-year NFL career with the San Diego Chargers. Byrd also strengthens the connection with the former staff of the Bears, as the 2-time Pro Bowl player worked under Smith in Chicago for seven seasons. Byrd will be critical to implementing a modified "Tampa 2" defense and refining a more defined role for coverage specialist Darrelle Revis.
Dave Borgonzi -- Defensive quality control:
Without a set position to mentor, this role is easily overlooked, but coaches often depend on the diverse contributions of quality control assistants. Filling these duties for Smith on defense will be this former linebacker for Amherst College, who comes to Tampa Bay following two seasons of work as a scouting assistant for the Cowboys.
Dave Kennedy -- Strength and conditioning coach:
One of the few hires without a clear past connection to Smith, Kennedy makes the leap to the NFL after two decades of working in strength and conditioning for several top-level college football programs, including Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Ohio State.
More by Jeff Briscoe for Yahoo! Contributor Network:
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train .
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