NFC South: Leslie Frazier

TAMPA, Fla. – Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith frequently calls Lavonte David the best outside linebacker in the NFL.

So why was David once again overlooked when the Pro Bowl selections were announced Tuesday night?

David
It’s simple. It also is unfair and shows a flaw in how the Pro Bowl rosters are structured.

The fact is that David doesn’t have the kind of statistics as his competition. He has one sack and no interceptions. His 141 tackles are an impressive number, but that’s not what Pro Bowl voters are looking for.

They’re looking for sacks, and the proof is in who made the roster. It’s filled with outside linebackers that play in 3-4 schemes. A huge part of their job is to rush the passer. They’re bound to put up numbers.

David plays in a 4-3 scheme in which he rarely gets an opportunity to rush the passer. His job is to go from sideline to sideline and make tackles. He does that as well as any 4-3 linebacker in the game.

But David, a third alternate for the Pro Bowl, might continue to get overlooked because of the system he plays in. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Wednesday that the system shouldn’t limit David’s Pro Bowl chances.

“I think for sure Lavonte will be able to make enough plays in this defense," Frazier said. “You don’t have to go any further than Derrick Brooks to take a look at that. It’s been done before. He will continue to improve in this system and get better and we look forward to congratulating him on his first Pro Bowl appearance eventually. He’ll make enough plays in this system to go to the Pro Bowl."

But the odds are stacked against David as long as the current system is in place for filling Pro Bowl rosters. Smith has said it’s an injustice that outside linebackers from 4-3 schemes have to compete against players from 3-4 schemes and he’s right.

The NFL needs to make another category for outside linebackers who play in a 4-3 scheme. Until that happens, David and some other very good linebackers will continue to be overlooked.

Last stand for Da'Quan Bowers

December, 18, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- When he came here in 2011, there was hope that Da'Quan Bowers would blossom into one of the league’s best defensive ends.

Now, he is auditioning just to prove he belongs in the NFL. The final two games of the season mark Bowers’ last chance to show something. He will be a free agent after this season, and this is his last chance to convince the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to re-sign him. It’s also a chance to show other teams what he can do.

Bowers
Bowers, who moved from defensive end to defensive tackle this season, probably will get more playing time in the final two games than he has all season. That’s because All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

The 2-12 Bucs obviously are out of the playoff picture, but they will be watching Bowers closely, because they have to make a decision on whether or not to keep him around.

"You like to see a guy who can be physical at the point of attack," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We’ll probably get more runs at that position than we have all season because of Gerald not playing. He’ll have an opportunity to show his teammates and his coaches what he’s able to do in an extended period. We saw a little of that last week when Gerald went down early. [Bowers] got in a few more snaps and he found out the importance of conditioning. We need to see if he can pass rush, we need to see him go down in and down out and really do the things we ask him to do in run defense as well. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’ll be able to showcase that he’s capable of being a quality NFL starter."

Once talked about as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Bowers’ stock slipped because of concerns about his knee. The Bucs took a shot on him in the second round. But Bowers was a non-factor, recording just 5.5 sacks in his first three seasons.

But when coach Lovie Smith arrived this season, the expectations for Bowers weren’t the same as before. Gradually, Bowers was moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, and he’s handled the transition well.

"It’s a totally different position even though you’re playing on the defensive line," Frazier said. "The blocking schemes are a lot different than when you’re a defensive end. Sometimes there are two people blocking you, with a guard and a tackle versus a tight end or a tackle at defensive end. Based on our needs, he fits the situation. He did a good enough job for us a week ago. We’ve been playing him inside throughout the season. We’ve also had him outside. But, at this point, he’s probably exclusively an inside player for us because of the circumstances."

The circumstances are that Tampa Bay is light on healthy defensive tackles. That means Bowers will get a lot of playing time, and he will have a chance to influence whether the Bucs decide to keep him around.
TAMPA, Fla. -- For a change, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have an edge on an opponent.

They’ve seen something out of the Carolina Panthers that no one else has this season. They’ve seen Derek Anderson as the starting quarterback.

Anderson led the Panthers to victory against the Bucs in the regular-season opener. Anderson has been limited to mop-up duty since then. But he’ll get his second start of the season Sunday when the Bucs play at Carolina.

[+] EnlargeDerek Anderson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDerek Anderson has led the Panthers to a victory over the Bucs already once this season.
“If any team is going to have the best chance to know what he is, it’s going to be us since he did play against us," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “We’re probably going to rely heavily on what we saw in the first game. They’re going to have some tweaks obviously. They’re not going to come in with the same game plan. To prepare for him, you’ve got to know he did the job really well the first time. He threw the ball where his players could make plays and he ran a very, very efficient game. I think they’ll probably be a little bit more aggressive and try to attack us in the running game with people being more healthy because I think their offensive line was a little banged up when they played us in Week 1."

Anderson is starting because Cam Newton suffered injuries in a car accident earlier this week. And the Bucs aren’t taking Anderson lightly.

“I think people forget that just because he’s the backup now they forget that he has made a Pro Bowl before," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “So he knows how to play the game. He can pick apart a defense because he has played at the highest level before."

Anderson previously was a starter in Cleveland and Arizona. In the opener against Tampa Bay, Anderson completed 24 of 34 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“I don’t think there’s any drop off with Derek Anderson," Verner said. “I think he is a very capable quarterback and I think he’s very good. He showed it the first game, so I expect more of the same."

The change might be bigger for the Panthers because they’ll have to switch offensive styles and abandon the read-option that they do so much of with Newton.

“It is a different offense with Anderson versus Cam Newton at quarterback," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “They changed from the time we played them up until (this week). The offense we will see, more than likely, will be more like what we saw the first game of the season as opposed to what we saw a week ago against New Orleans. It’s a different style of offense."

That’s because Anderson is a different style of quarterback than Newton.

“He’s a quarterback that has started in our league and has had a good career," Frazier said. “But he’s more of a pocket passer than Cam is. You kind of know where he’s going to be. But he’s shown he can escape as well. Like with all quarterbacks, whatever their strength is, you want to take that away from them. His strength is being in the pocket, being able to see things and making throws on rhythm. So we’ve got to find a way to get him out of rhythm."
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy got 13 plays off in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. That’s about 13 more plays off than McCoy got per game last season.

Former coach Greg Schiano played McCoy on virtually every snap. Schiano was fond of saying that the drop off from McCoy to his backup was too dramatic. Schiano also used to say he’d prefer McCoy at 85 percent to anyone else.

McCoy
McCoy
But coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has brought a different philosophy when it comes to giving McCoy rest.

“We’re trying to develop a rotation system and you don’t want to have a big drop off when the next guy comes in," Frazier said. “We’ve had to deal with the injury bug at times. Now, I think we’re settled in a little bit with the rotation, so we can take some of those snaps off of Gerald, so that when we get to the fourth quarter he’s able to play his best football -- not just start fast and then we don’t really have the same Gerald in the second half of the ballgame. That’s the goal, to make sure he’s fresh on third-down situations and, for sure, in the fourth quarter. When you don’t have the rotation, you get his numbers up too high and you don’t get what you want when the fourth quarter rolls around."

McCoy took pride in his extensive playing time last year. But he said he’s seeing the benefits of the new philosophy.

“I’m so used to playing most of the snaps that this is new to me," McCoy said. “It’s been helpful. I feel good, really better than I ever have at this point in the season. It’s helpful. I think I’m able to be my best at the end of the game when I’m fresher and had a couple plays off."
TAMPA, Fla. -- In a 2-9 season, it’s hard to pick out bright spots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But there has been one area where the Bucs have been trending up for the last month or so: defense. Since Week 8, the defense, which was ranked last in the league at one point, has been dramatically better.

McCoy
McCoy
Since Week 8, the Tampa Bay defense ranks fourth in the league in yards allowed. In that same span, the Bucs have recorded 14 sacks, which is tied for fifth in the NFL. In that time frame, Gerald McCoy has 5.5 sacks and Jacquies Smith has four sacks.

The surge by the defense could be a sign of better things to come. But it’s really not a surprise that it took some time for the unit to fully grasp the Tampa 2 defense. McCoy said he talked to former Tampa Bay greats Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks soon after Lovie Smith was hired to coach the Bucs, and they told him not to expect the defense to be great right away.

“Guys that have been in this defense, they just know it takes time," McCoy said.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier agreed the defense takes time to master.

“Part of it is guys having a better understanding," Frazier said. “We’ve been together longer now. They’ve heard these terms a lot more."

Frazier also said some of the defensive improvement can be traced to personnel moves. He pointed to Jacquies Smith and safety Major Wright, who have moved into starting roles.

Frazier also singled out a few other players. He sang the praises of middle linebacker Mason Foster.

“I think he has a better command of the middle linebacker position in this system and what’s required," Frazier said. “You really are the quarterback of the defense in this system. If you don’t have a good grasp of what other people’s roles are, then you are not going to be what we need at the middle linebacker position. He’s become more aware of his responsibilities and the fact that he can’t have tunnel vision and just think about (middle linebacker). He has to be aware of what’s happening with the people in front of him and even the people behind him. He’s grown in that area, and I think it’s helped us improve."

Frazier also said second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks has helped the defense improve.

“He kind of mirrors the improvement of our defense," Frazier said. “You look at the way he has come along, I think it coincides with the rest of our defense. You can see the growth. He’s making more plays. He’s playing with more confidence."

McCoy said the defense’s attitude has changed and the unit has become more consistent.

“The true measure of a man’s mental toughness is consistency," McCoy said. “You want to work to be consistent. The greatest anything is consistent, whether it’s a restaurant, a person’s stats, your momma’s cooking. If it’s great, it’s consistent. I think we’re working to be more consistent and our attitude has changed."
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to host the Falcons on Sunday, they’ve had to face a lot of questions about their previous meeting with Atlanta.

You might remember that 56-14 Atlanta victory in which the Bucs got humiliated on national television in Week 3.

“You felt like you were playing with the JV on that night,’’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.

In a way, Frazier is right. The Bucs were without All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and middle linebacker Mason Foster, who were injured. Defensive end Michael Johnson also injured his ankle early in the game and played only six snaps.

“It was tough,’’ Frazier said. “The guys that played, they did everything they could. They battled, but we were a little bit outmanned. They did a good job against us. We’ve got to fight back. But it helps to have a Gerald McCoy. He’s a premier defensive tackle in our league, arguably the best in our league. He’ll make a difference on Sunday.’’

But McCoy, who is known for speaking his mind, said injuries weren’t the only reason the Bucs got blown out by Atlanta.

“More importantly than who’s playing our attitude and approach to the game and during the game, we didn’t play with much heart or pride that game,’’ McCoy said. “That has to be better this game. Whoever is out there, we have to do it with more heart and more pride than we did the last time we played them.’’

The memories of the fiasco in Atlanta have been brought back this week as the Bucs have watched film of that game.

“Coach said it leaves a scar, which it does,’’ McCoy said. “All of us have scars. You look at a scar and you remember I got that scar from this happening.’’

Having a healthy McCoy and Foster should help. And the Tampa Bay defense has played well in the past two games. The Bucs also are turning the starting quarterback job back to Josh McCown, who suffered a thumb injury early in the previous meeting and missed five games.

“We know we’re a much better team this time,’’ wide receiver Vincent Jackson said.

“We’re going to be a completely different team when they see us this week,’’ cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “They shouldn’t be looking at that game as an evaluation of how they think this game should go. We’re going to come out blazing and do a lot of good things.’’

Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:

Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?

Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.

He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.

Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?

Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.

You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?

Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.

The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?

Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.

The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?

Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.

The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.

To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?

Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith will not be at Thursday’s practice as he attends the funeral of his father-in-law, team officials said.

Smith is expected to return to the team Friday. In his absence, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will handle the defense. Frazier, a former head coach in Minnesota, will address the media after practice.

The offense already has been operating on a committee system. With offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford on a leave of absence, quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo has been calling the plays with input from the other members of the offensive staff.
TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the traits I admire most about Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is his honesty.

Even if something isn't positive, McCoy's not afraid to say it.

"One of our Achilles heels right now is covering the tight end," McCoy said Thursday. "We have to be better at that."

McCoy simply was stating the obvious. The Bucs are coming off a game in which Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller caught 10 passes. Now, the Bucs have to face New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, who just might be the best tight end in the business -- if you even consider him a tight end.

"There are going to be times when we look at (Graham) as a receiver because they do move him around a lot," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "It's not often that he's a point-of-attack blocker. You see that on tape. He's an outstanding tight end with great pass-receiving skills. You've got to respect that and the way they move him around you have to recognize that he's not always at the tight end position. There are times we're going to treat him as a receiver."

The Bucs likely will use a combination of linebackers and defensive backs to try to slow Graham and quarterback Drew Brees. But there is one other way to prevent Graham from getting the ball.

"The (pass) rush can help that," McCoy said. "Somebody has to win early and we can make the quarterback make a bad throw. Or if the tight end is open, somebody is getting his hands up and getting the quarterback off his spot and making him make a bad throw. And, then, on the back end, guys being in the right spot covering the tight end. What better week to do it than this week. No. 9 and No. 80 over the past five years, that's been a huge combo."

McCoy said the key is to put pressure on Brees.

"Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but obviously different defenses get to him and rattle him and make him have a bad day," McCoy said. "You have to do that. It's going to start with us in the middle. He's a shorter guy, so we have to get in his face. We have different packages where we'll have taller guys in the middle and try to get our hands up and pressure him.

"Really, the big thing is to get him off his spot and it's a rush and coverage combo after that. But we definitely have to get him off his spot. He likes to throw from a certain spot. He has a certain step-up spot he likes. We have to get him off of that and get him uncomfortable."

Frazier was quick to point out the Saints have plenty of other offensive weapons besides Graham.

"You have to make a decision on what you've got to take away," Frazier said. "We have a plan for this week and hopefully we can execute it."
TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster gave a ringing endorsement to the man who is likely to take his place in the starting lineup Thursday night.

Fletcher
Foster is expected to sit out with a dislocated shoulder. That means Dane Fletcher likely will get the start.

“Dane is a veteran,’’ Foster said. “He’s a proven player in this league. He had a great camp and he’s ready to go. He’s a great linebacker. He’s going to step in and make it happen.’’

Fletcher will call the defensive plays. That’s something he did when he stepped in for Foster during Sunday’s loss to St. Louis. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said he has confidence in Fletcher.

“When Dane got in the ball game [Sunday], he did some good things,’’ Frazier said. “It’s tough when you’re not getting as many reps in practice on some of the things you have to do in the game. But, for the most part, we were pleased with his work. With this week being a short week, he still won’t get as many reps. But he’ll be able to get some film study and prepare and I think he’ll go out and play well Thursday night.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier wasn’t giving away any secrets Wednesday as he talked about Sunday’s loss to Carolina.

Frazier
The world already knew that the Bucs didn’t have much of a pass rush and didn’t come up with any takeaways. Frazier is painfully aware of both issues and talked at length about improving the pass rush and the turnover ratio.

In Tampa Bay’s system it’s crucial for the defense to produce turnovers. The fact that the Bucs didn’t have any against the Panthers was costly.

“Not being able to balance takeaways, the fact that they had three and we had no takeaways, is probably the difference in the game,’’ Frazier said. “They get 17 points off turnovers and we didn’t come up with one. From a defensive standpoint, we’ve got to be able to get those turnovers, those takeaways. No matter how the game is going, it really gives you a chance to be successful. We know historically that if you get three-plus, you’ve got a 95 percent chance of winning the game and we came up with zero.’’

Frazier said takeaways and pressure on the quarterback go hand in hand. The Bucs sacked Carolina quarterback Derek Anderson just once and seldom pressured him. Frazier said it’s critical for the Bucs to generate more of a pass rush in Sunday’s home game with St. Louis.

“There’s some things we’re going to try to improve our pass rush,’’ Frazier said. “In order for us to be successful, we need to be able to get that rush out of our down four without having a lot of other things. We saw some things we think will be able to help us this week.’’

Lavonte David a well-kept secret

August, 27, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The comparisons started among Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans as soon as Lavonte David was drafted in 2012.

It seemed far-fetched, or at least very premature, but David instantly was seen as the second coming of Derrick Brooks. These days, that doesn’t seem like quite a stretch.

“It’s very early in his career and Derrick’s a Hall of Famer, so it’s hard to say that at this point,’’ Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “But if there’s anybody that has a chance as an outside linebacker to end up on the Derrick Brooks level, Lavonte has those qualities. His instincts, his ability to make big plays, and his ability to lift everyone up around him are similar to what Derrick had. Lavonte has those qualities. He has the chance to be one of the great players in this league.’’

As Brooks was, David is a weakside linebacker with a knack for big plays. David is coming off a 2013 season in which he had 145 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and five interceptions. Look at what Brooks did in the first two years of his career and David stacks up pretty well.

“It’s nerve-wracking being compared to that guy," David said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. All it does is motivate me to keep working hard, and maybe one day I can get to where he’s at."

Despite the brilliant start to his career, David remains one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets -- outside of Tampa Bay. David was overlooked for the Pro Bowl last season, but was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. In ESPN.com's rankings of the NFL's top 100 defensive players, David came in at No. 25. He was 98th a year ago.

“[The Pro Bowl snub] didn't bother me as much as people might think," David said. “I can only control what I can control. I just go out there and play my hardest. Being voted first-team All-Pro is better than being voted to the Pro Bowl, in my opinion."

The Pro Bowls will come as long as David continues to produce, and all indications are he will. With Lovie Smith taking over as head coach, the Bucs are returning to the Tampa 2 defense that was famous back when Brooks was playing. Weakside linebacker is a crucial position in the Tampa 2 as that player is expected to go from side to side against the run and drop in coverage or blitz against the pass. Frazier said David is a perfect fit for the scheme.

“He sees things before they happen," Smith said. “He studies extremely hard. You should see him in the classroom. He’s asking questions all the time. He’s always looking for more. And then he goes on the football field and you can see that he’s applying what he’s learned. That’s not always the case. That makes him a very special talent."

How special can David be?

“The sky is the limit," Frazier said. “The way he works, as smart as he is, the talent he has -- he should go to a lot of Pro Bowls before his career is over. I’m looking forward to being a part of his evolution. He can be as good as any outside linebacker that’s played the game, in my opinion. I think he has those traits."
TAMPA, Fla. -- In many ways, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith is different from predecessor Greg Schiano. There could be yet another difference coming.

Schiano played defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on about 90 percent of the defensive plays for the season. Schiano’s logic was that a tired McCoy still was better than his backup. But Smith might see things a little differently.

McCoy
McCoy
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier hinted Tuesday that the Bucs might rest McCoy a bit more than Schiano did.

“You want him on the field as much as possible," Frazier said. “But, also, you want to make sure in the fourth quarter that he’s fresh and able to finish games the same way he started games."

Frazier’s comments came as he talked about how the Bucs have been giving defensive end Da'Quan Bowers some practice time at defensive tackle.

“We’ll see how Da'Quan does inside, but we think he’ll give us that relief that we’ll need sometimes when we want to take Gerald off the field," Frazier said.

Although Bowers has yet to make much of an impact in his NFL career, Frazier said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen in camp.

“His strength sticks out," Frazier said. “He’s a stout player on the inside and we need a guy who can come in when Gerald is not on the field, so we don’t have a big drop off. But we’re also going to use Da'Quan at end as well. He’s one of the few guys that can give you the dual purpose on the defensive line. With his strength inside and his movement and athleticism, if he stays healthy, we’re counting on big things from him."
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Leslie Frazier came to speak with the media about the Buccaneers’ defense. He wound up fielding questions about the Minnesota Vikings’ offense.

It’s understandable. Frazier, Tampa Bay’s new defensive coordinator, was Minnesota’s head coach this past season and the Vikings were the landing spot for quarterback Josh Freeman after he was released by Tampa Bay. But Freeman appeared in only one game and the results were ugly.

Freeman
A big part of the reason things didn’t work out for Freeman in Tampa Bay was because he repeatedly was late for meetings and team gatherings. That got him in former coach Greg Schiano’s doghouse. But Frazier said tardiness wasn’t an issue for Freeman in Minnesota

Still, Frazier had good things to say about Freeman.

“He worked as hard as he could every week to prepare and be ready to go,’’ Frazier said. “He was a pro in every sense of the word. But we made a decision to try to figure out where Christian Ponder was and also take a look at Matt Cassel because we were trying to determine and get some answers regarding our quarterback position. Josh got caught up in the shuffle. It probably wasn’t a fair situation for him. It made it difficult for him. It made it difficult for all of us when you’re trying to evaluate quarterbacks in an NFL season. That’s not a wise thing. Nothing to do with Josh. He prepared and worked as hard as he could to get on the field. It just didn’t work out.’’

When Frazier did get to talk about Tampa Bay’s defense, the most interesting thing he said was about how the team plans to use cornerback Darrelle Revis. Since the hiring of head coach Lovie Smith, there’s been some concern among fans that Revis’ talent could go to waste in Tampa 2 coverage.

But Smith has made it clear the Bucs won’t be using the Tampa 2 on every snap. Frazier echoed that and said the Bucs will play to Revis’ strengths, which would indicate a willingness to use him in man-to-man coverage.

“He’s a terrific player, without question,’’ Frazier said. “There’s always room in any system for great players. We’re going to do all we can to maximize his talents and utilize his gifts. He’s going to be one of the key guys to our success without question. We’ll do whatever we have to do to maximize his talents.’’

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