How fitting that one of the architects of the Buccaneers’ Tampa-2 glory days returns to replace the fired Greg Schiano? That’s exactly what the Bucs did in bringing back Lovie Smith, a linebackers coach under Tony Dungy before moving on to the coordinator gig in St. Louis and the head job in Chicago.
Certainly, Smith’s expertise is on the defensive side of the football, and he took plenty of heat in Chicago for the Bears’ offensive struggles. But as rumors of Lovie’s Tampa hiring swirled, word on the street was that Lovie had a solution to that hurdle: his own ready-made offensive guru, longtime Cal head coach Jeff Tedford.
So while Smith rebuilds the defense in a Tampa-2 mold—Alterraun Verner and Michael Johnson are a couple of nice building blocks—Tedford gets his first crack at the NFL.
That’s right, Tedford has neither played nor coached in The League. His six pro seasons were confined to the CFL, where he also made his coaching debut, and for the past two decades he’s coached in the collegiate ranks—albeit successfully, twice being named Pac-10 coach of the year. And he’s helped develop NFL-caliber talent, Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, and DeSean Jackson included among the 40 Golden Bears drafted (eight first-rounders) during Tedford’s tenure in Berkley.
“I have a great deal of respect for the job Jeff did at Cal for more than a decade and I believe he will be a great fit for what we are attempting to do in Tampa,” Smith said at the press conference introducing Tedford to Tampa. “Jeff has a successful and proven track record as a teacher and developer of young talent and I know our players, and the organization as a whole, will benefit from his experience.”
Tedford also has a system—a complex, quarterback-heavy system. Past Tedford QBs have said his scheme is “a lot harder than the usual offense”, “overwhelming”, and “confusing as hell”, though as one, former Cal quarterback Brock Mansion, said, “It all becomes second nature when you get reps. Ever since I’ve been here, the quarterback has always grasped it.”
Or as NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, a Tedford pupil at Fresno State, put it, “You never feel like you don’t have an answer.”
To make sure Tedford has a quarterback who can handle the system, Tampa Bay brought in Josh McCown—who parlayed a journeyman career into a two-year, $10 million deal after thriving in Marc Trestman’s similar system in Chicago. It also buys time for Mike Glennon, who left North Carolina State with a master’s degree before starting as a Bucs’ rookie last season, to get up to speed as well. Both should be capable of the many reads and checks required in Tedford’s system, and both have the necessary accuracy as well.
To carry on the comparison between what McCown had in Chicago and what he’ll work with in Tampa, the Bucs have something similar to the Bears’ twin tower targets of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in their own Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. The addition of pass-catching tight end Brandon Myers adds another weapon, augmenting what Tim Wright brings to the table.
And while Tedford is an acknowledged quarterbacks guy, he said at his introductory press conference that “I think you still have to be able to run the football. Football in general is going to that—spread it out, spread the field, speed in space, throw the ball. But… I still think you have got to be able to have an identity of running the football.”
Tedford’s track record in college was of a tandem backfield: J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch, Lynch and Jahvid Best, Best and Shane Vereen. And the last time Lovie was in Tampa Bay was the “Thunder and Lightning” heyday of Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott.
The Bucs have three backs on their roster who posted 100-yard games last season, so expect Doug Martin to share a healthy portion of the workload with either Mike James or Bobby Rainey—or maybe some three-headed combination thereof. The running game as a whole will be more speed-based than in the past—comparisons to Chip Kelly’s offense wouldn’t be unwarranted—so it’ll be more of a “Lightning and Lightning” approach than the Alstott/Dunn days. If you want to position Martin as the LeSean McCoy of that comparison go ahead, though Martin is likely to do more sharing than McCoy did last season in Philly.
Tampa Bay is reworking its offensive line as well. Donald Penn, Davin Joseph, and Jeremy Zuttah are gone, replaced by the more mobile Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith. There are holes to fill, but that seems to be the direction the Bucs are taking its line: more athleticism and more speed in a system that spreads the field and creates space for playmakers.
A dollop of Trestman, a pinch of Kelly… the Bucs are following in the steps of last season’s success stories in hopes of turning things around in Tampa. If Tedford’s scheme comes quickly to McCown and/or Glennon, there is more than enough talent on the Buccaneers’ roster to turn around what was statistically the worst offense in the league last year.