Bucs part ways with past to focus on future

TAMPA, Fla. – Warren Sapp(notes) is long gone. So is John Lynch(notes). Derrick Brooks(notes) was cut earlier this offseason. And though cornerback Ronde Barber(notes) is still around, the 12-year veteran is certainly not around for the long haul.

Even the famed Tampa 2 defense, once installed by Tony Dungy and run for years by former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has gone the way of the Walkman.

Photo Adams registered 6½ sacks last season.
(Reinhold Matay/AP Photo)

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers move forward with new head coach Raheem Morris and the youth movement, almost every vestige from the Super Bowl XXXVII team has been pushed aside – though the ties haven’t been completely severed.

“Brooks is not coming back. Sapp is not coming back. Lynch is not coming back. Somebody has to assume those roles … that was a little bit of the message Warren was giving and that’s what those guys got out of it,” said Morris, promoted in January to succeed Jon Gruden, as he explained Sapp’s address to the team on Tuesday. “That was a sweet thing to see. That’s our history, that’s what we are. Bucs D, baby, that’s Buccaneer[s] football.”

Well, that was Buccaneers football. What Morris and new general manager Mark Dominik are trying to build is something new, something more than the team that seemed to be stuck in place the past four years.

The quarterback position has been turned over with graybeards Jeff Garcia(notes) and Brian Griese(notes) replaced by Byron Leftwich(notes) and first-round draft pick Josh Freeman(notes). The defense is now a one-gap, bump-and-run combination of line and secondary play.

“We’ll play some of the stuff that they had here before,” said Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Jim Bates. “But we’re going to be primarily a bump-and-run, get-up-the-field attack now.”

That’s as soothing as a little TV before bed for 2007 first-round pick Gaines Adams(notes), who has run with the idea of this new scheme. So much so that the defensive end wrote down a little list of goals for this season and taped them to the top drawer of his nightstand. When he reaches for the remote, he sees the list, a daily reminder of what he hopes to accomplish after two middling seasons.

“Just a little something different for me, a little reminder all the time of what I’ve got to do,” said Adams, who recorded 12½ sacks in his first two seasons. “It’s something different for me, something to change things up and get my mind focused on what I have to do.”

While Adams declined to name the goals, the trick is similar to what other players – such as former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor(notes) – have done. Taylor started writing his goals down every year, posting them somewhere for him to see each day. Like Adams, Taylor shared them with no one until the year was done.

As with the goals, Adams is trying to copy Taylor in other ways. Bates has Adams looking at film of Taylor, studying Taylor’s pass-rushing moves.

More importantly, Bates is putting Adams in the same position. Unlike the Tampa 2 defense, which primarily had the defensive linemen lined up nose to nose with the offensive linemen and guarding both gaps, Bates’ system allows Adams to line up on an angle opposite the left tackle almost all the time.

“I’m lined up on the left tackle’s shoulder now rather than nose to nose … 18 inches and cocked,” Adams said. As a result, he’s gone from being lined up approximately five inches away from the left tackle to the 18 inches. “It takes all the thinking out of what we have to do up front.”

Instead, that extra space gives Adams enough room to make a move – or at least let the left tackle think there’s going to be a move. It allows the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Adams to take advantage of his athletic ability, to ultimately make him more of a weapon and, as the Bucs hope, a leader.

“This was a lot of the thinking that went into what we’re doing on defense with these changes,” Dominik said. “We wanted something that fit with the players we had and what they’re capable of to see if they can become what we expect. When we were interviewing Jim Bates, it was important that he run a certain defense that fit that profile.”

Photo Talib had 4 INTs during his rookie campaign.
(Fernando Medina/US Presswire)

Likewise, Bates’ bump-and-run style in coverage fits for the physically gifted Aqib Talib(notes), a 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete who practically can’t keep himself from twitching as he talks excitedly about football. Combine that with his motor mouth and you have the making of a cornerback version of Sapp, a trash-talker of outrageous proportion.

“Whatever I’m saying, it just comes out,” said Talib, the team’s 2008 first-round pick who is slated to start at left cornerback. “It’s not like I’m thinking about it; it’s just whatever happens. I’m out there having fun, playing the greatest game in the world, being myself.”

Again, what the Bucs need from Adams and Talib is greatness if they’re going to get where they hope by 2010 or 2011. It’s easy to read in Dominik’s face that this season probably will be a struggle.

“We understand what people on the outside think,” Dominik said. “That’s all right, we have a plan and we’re going about it a certain way.”

To that end, players such as linebacker Angelo Crowell(notes) and running back Derrick Ward(notes) were signed as free agents. Both were captains on their previous teams. Tight end Kellen Winslow(notes), acquired by trade, brings a serious work ethic and no fear of expressing his opinion.

While that’s all well and good, the critical element still comes down to Adams and Talib. Both need to become significant players because there’s no getting around the fact that players generally follow the best guys, particularly in football.

That’s why what Sapp had to say rang so strongly with the players.

“In this game, in this business, you always have to have other people to step up and mold or help mold and encourage those guys to exhibit what they have inside them. We gotta bring it out of each other,” said wide receiver Antonio Bryant(notes). “That’s what Sapp was saying … you have to listen to that. I don’t want to listen to a coach who hasn’t been out on the field. You’re listening to the warrior, the guy who has been out there.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, May 14, 2009