First priority for new Bucs' HC will be filling defensive holes
Black Monday proved to be somewhat of a non-event this season, with teams acting early and removing their head coaches on Sunday immediately following their Week 17 games—or weeks earlier, in a few cases. The Buccaneers lit the spark of the coaching carousel last night, though, with the somewhat surprising move to fire Lovie Smith after only his second season with the team, and only a year after entrusting Smith with a quarterback as the No. 1 overall pick.
Media reports cited an underperforming defense, which, considering Smith’s specialization on that side of the ball, ownership was apparently unhappy with, and wanted to move in a different direction. On some level, this is perhaps unfair grounds on which to remove Smith; two years ago, he took over a team lacking in talent at almost every level, and the focus of personnel moves has been on the offensive side of the ball, such as the free agent signing of Vincent Jackson and only one draft pick spent on defense in the last two seasons. In terms of premium defensive talent, the Buccaneers boast two blue chip talents who both had down years in 2015, in the shape of Gerald McCoy (who played through injury) and Lavonte David, but the supporting cast is limited, to say the very least. On the defensive line, McCoy stole the attention of opponents’ pass protection more than any other defensive tackle this season and yet was still the Buccaneers’ most productive pass rusher up front, with 41 pressures on the QB.
Regardless of the merits of Smith’s firing, the die is now cast, and the Buccaneers must move on in a coaching market that has already started to move in terms of interviews, even though no new head coach has been hired as yet. One factor that will help elevate the Buccaneers’ vacancy is the rookie season that Jameis Winston produced to validate his selection last spring. In what is an ever-more quarterback driven league, such a promising rookie season from Winston (71.8 overall grade) will surely have offensive and defensive minded coaches alike eager to work with a player who could be the centerpiece of a winning team. The recent investment in the offense also has some tools around Winston, and if the Bucs can keep hold of Doug Martin (PFF’s 2015 All-Pro running back), they will be well set at the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball, at least.
The challenge in this job, now, is completing the task that was set for Lovie Smith two years ago—overhauling an underperforming defense—and the challenge here will require investment from the front office in better defensive talent. Only three players on the Buccaneers’ defense finished with grade above 70.0 this season (Chris Conte, Gerald McCoy, William Gholston), and while the likes of Lavonte David underperformed this year, that isn’t enough quality to build a strong defense. The Buccaneers haven’t come close to replacing Michael Bennett since they let him walk after the 2012 season, and their secondary has been devoid of quality performers since 2012, Darrelle Revis’ solitary season aside.
The Buccaneers’ lopsided approach to rebuilding their roster has left them with an unbalanced team in terms of investment and talent, and Lovie Smith has paid for that with his job. The Buccaneers must, however, continue that task and focus heavily on the defensive side of the ball this off-season to build a quality defense around Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David and bring balance to the team. Regardless of whether they look to another defensive coach to build this new talent around, or whether they bring in an offensive coach to nurture Winston’s talent and build him into the top tier quarterback they believe he can be, the focus of this offseason’s personnel moves must be on the defensive side of the ball.