Buckner can help, if he gets some more help

by Gary Shelton on February 22, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

The Bucs' need to add muscle to the defensive line./CARMEN MANDATO

The Bucs' need to add muscle to the defensive line./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Everyone knows how to say hello.

By now, the lines are written in ink, and the best coaches and the worst ones all know what to say. They talk about effort and intensity and hunger and desire, and their voices sound loud and their eyes look clear. In their opening press conference, no one ever coached a player who got blocked.

All of which leads us to new Bucs' defensive line coach Brentson Buckner.

And, man, is he going to need more than words.

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Ayers had only two sacks in 2017./CARMEN MANDATO

Ayers had only two sacks in 2017./CARMEN MANDATO

This isn't to pick on Buckner, who was introduced as the Bucs' new defensive line coach Wednesday. Hey, he just got here. Who knows? Before he is done, he might be the Bucs' new Rod Marinelli. Or not.

The point is, you can't tell from a late February afternoon inside a press conference room. That's not when running backs are smothered. That's not when quarterbacks are harassed.Best of luck to Buckner, but if the Bucs are going to be better on the defensive lines, they need  to repick teams.

Sacks aren't the strength of Gholston./JEFFREY S. KING

Sacks aren't the strength of Gholston./JEFFREY S. KING

Oh, give Buckner credit. He sounds like he can bring some more energy to the field. But it's going to take more than that. Defensive line is arguably the Bucs' weakest position, and a coach doesn't exactly bring short cuts with him.

“The vision for this defensive line is to be physically and mentally tough," Buckner said. "When you turn on that film, you’re going to see four guys recklessly attacking the guy in front of them like their lives depend on it. When they can’t do it, the next guy behind them is going to come in and do it. We’re going to work well together. We’re going to hunt until the whistle blows. We don’t want anyone to feel comfortable.

"All week long, that offensive line is telling their coach and their running back and quarterback that they can run this play and block those guys. We’re going to take that personally. We’re not going to go out there looking for a fight. We’re going to go out there inviting a fight when that ball is snapped because we want to be vicious. We want our play to precede us when we walk into a stadium. We don’t want other teams to say, ‘When are the Bucs going to give us a day?’ We want to them to know that when the Bucs step on the field, it’s going to be a battle. We might not win them all, but your training room is going to look like we did.”

Maybe. But there is a reason the Bucs were last in the NFL in quarterback sacks last season. There is a reason it's been a dozen seasons since a Buc had double-digit sacks. It's a drive-stopping play, a play that robs the opponents of down and distance, and there are times the Bucs would be better off mailing a letter. It would get there quicker.

Buckner points out that a team needs more than sacks, and that's true. But it also needs sacks.

"Sacks are the ending of being in the right place at the right time and maximizing that opportunity," Buckner said. "You play 1,300 plays, you have 10 plays (with a sack) and they want to throw a parade. Well, what about the 1,290 (other) plays that you have? They're a great part of the game, but we want to affect the whole game. First of all, we want to make sure we stop the run.

"I think a lot of people get misconstrued about just getting sacks, but you stop the run and you get them into pure passing downs, none of those downs where it can be play-action. You get to that point and now you go get the quarterback, and sometimes it's not going to be a sack, but you're moving him off the spot. You're making him move his feet, you're hitting him, you're making him be uncomfortable. That's what normally happens for the first three-and-a-half quarters of a game. Look at the Super Bowl – not a sack all game and then there's one big sack and it's the biggest play of the game. So it's about being consistent, putting yourself in the right spot and constantly trying to break that wall down. That's where I judge it. Are you always going to get sacks? No, because that offensive line gets paid, too. But it's the consistent pressure, moving him off the spot, making him make bad throws (or) throw a little too early, affect the game that way. Interceptions normally put the quarterback in a panic to hold the ball a little bit more and that buys you more time to get to the quarterback."

Yeah? The thing is, the Bucs haven't done that, either. It's the reason that Buckner is here for the fired Jay Hayes.

The Bucs could use a free agent. They could use a draft pick. They could use someone to notice their ends.

William Gholston is a solid player. But he has 10 sacks...in five years. Robert Ayers Jr. had two sacks last year. Noah Spence had one before being injured. Gerald McCoy gets some sacks  -- 39 the last five years -- but a great pass rush usually doesn't come from the inside.

"You start with Gerald McCoy, which is a great place to start," Buckner said. "There are 31 other coaches who would love to have that type of piece in there. So, you have that. You have some young guys that are learning. You have some old guys who have seen a lot. So, what you try to do is get that mixture together and make them all understand that there is something you need from every level of player. As great as Gerald is, there may be something that he needs from a Clinton McDonald aspect or he might need from a Will Gholston who is a younger guy and you get them all to work together as one piece, one unit.”

Once, the Bucs had that. Back in the days of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, the Bucs' defensive line changed games. They kept offensive coordinators awake planning to stop the defensive line.

Somehow, the Bucs need to get back to that. That won't be easy in a division with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

“(My first thought is about) not getting much sleep," Buckner said. "Each one of those quarterbacks poses a different problem. You have Cam Newton who stands up there and looks at your defensive ends eye to eye. Sometimes he’s looking down at them and he can run and throw the ball. He makes you play 11 on 11 football so that’s a problem within itself.

“Then you go to Drew Brees and you’re taller than him but you never get a chance to touch him because he’s so smart. He plays the game and you know you need to be on your p’s and q’s as far as taking away passing lanes and not giving him so much time. But you can’t (get so focused) on going to get him because then they have a two-headed monster run game. They become even more balanced. Then you go down to Atlanta where ‘Matty Ice’ (Matt Ryan) is ‘Matty Ice.’ He can go from where he can’t connect on a pass to completing 20 in a row and throwing seven touchdowns because of Julio Jones and that run game. So, you have to be on your p’s and q’s and make sure that you’re always at your best. One thing all of those guys seem to do is that wherever you’re lacking, they find that. You can’t take a play off. You have to go out there and mentally beat them, meaning you know exactly what they’re going to do, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do, what can bother them. Then you have to make you’re in physical enough shape where you do it every play because they’re such great talents that one time you’re out of position, that’s when they take advantage of you.”

Buckner said he thinks of himself as a teacher. But a teacher needs a star student or two, too. He can guide. He can coach. Still, it's a players' game.

"The ultimate goal is to give Tampa Bay what it needs from a defensive line point of view to be a championship contender team," Buckner said. "You just need to go through the process, put yourself in the chance to play for championships and then let the pieces fall. If that means going to a thousand pro days and turning over every stone, I want to do it. I’m a guy that believes in if you’re a player in that defensive line room and you have that Buccaneer symbol on you helmet, there’s something you bring to the table and you have to bring it every Sunday. It might not be as great as the next guy but as long as you bring 100 percent of what you’ve got, we can be successful.”

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