NFL Nation: University of Tennessee

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 17, 2010
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Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: biggest team needs.

Baltimore Ravens

For years, adding an elite No. 1 receiver has been a major topic of discussion in Baltimore. This should be the year the Ravens finally make it happen. Baltimore will likely see what's available in free agency or the trade market at receiver. But look for Baltimore also to acquire fresh legs at receiver or tight end in the draft. This offseason should be mostly about helping budding quarterback Joe Flacco reach his full potential. The recent signing of Jim Zorn as quarterbacks coach also is a good step in that direction.

Although the defense is still one of the NFL's best, cornerback depth is needed.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were a good team in 2009. But their inconsistent passing game prevented the reigning AFC North champs from being a great team, as Cincinnati was one-and-done in the playoffs. Outside of Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals had no reliable receivers or tight ends. So look for the Bengals to address both needs in the draft. The recent addition of free-agent receiver Matt Jones might fill a need if he stays out of trouble. There are also rumors of Terrell Owens being interested in Cincinnati, which would be a solid upgrade over Laveranues Coles. Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham also has been linked to the Bengals as a possible first-round option with the No. 21 overall pick.

Cleveland Browns

When your offense was ranked dead last and the defense finished 31st in the NFL last season, there are a lot of holes. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have a big project ahead of them. But 11 draft picks give the team a lot of flexibility to fill those needs.

The biggest question for Cleveland is at quarterback. Can the Browns find their long-term solution at the position or is Brady Quinn the answer? With a thin crop of quality rookie quarterbacks, Cleveland likely will explore trades or free agency. Other key positions like linebacker, safety and cornerback are also huge needs. Reportedly, the team is intrigued by University of Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Tennessee safety Eric Berry is another potential option in the secondary.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Just one year removed from winning a Super Bowl, the Steelers do not have a lot of major needs. But a 9-7 season exposed some weaknesses with Pittsburgh, and cornerback is probably the biggest. William Gay was not ready to make the jump to a full-time starter in 2009. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, there are not a lot of corners with first-round grades thus far, although that may change after the combine and individual workouts.

The status of Pro Bowl nose tackle and pending free agent Casey Hampton is another issue. The Steelers could use the franchise tag to keep Hampton for at least another year while they try to find a replacement. Defensive tackle Dan Williams from the University of Tennessee would be an enticing draft option in the first round. Depth on the offensive line is also needed.
 
 Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
 Tampa Bay Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin appears to be leaving the NFL ranks to join his son Lane at the University of Tennessee.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- What happened on the field at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday was something Tampa Bay fans should savor.

It's going to go down as one of the final chapters of a story that won't get fully appreciated until it's over. Yes, Monte Kiffin's time as the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator -- heck, his time as the best defensive coordinator in the NFL -- appears to be coming to an end.

The man who's made the Bucs respectable since 1996 apparently will join his son, Lane, who officially will be announced as the University of Tennessee's new coach on Monday. There were no denials after the Bucs defeated the Saints, 23-20.

"It's all just speculation,'' Kiffin said. "That's all it is. I can honestly tell you it's speculation, just like it came up with the Raiders, it came up two years ago, it came up last year. So all I'm going to talk about and stay focused on is Monday Night Football, the Carolina Panthers and how about this game we just played?''

If you're still clinging to hope that Kiffin will stay in pewter forever, think again. He was given several chances to shoot down the stuff he called speculation.

"No, no, no,'' Kiffin said. "I'm going to talk about our football team.''

That's the Buccaneers, for now, and Kiffin is the kind of old-school guy who means what he says. This guy is no Bobby Petrino. He's not going to leave his team in the middle of a playoff run.

But he wouldn't deny all that could change after the season.

"Well, we'll see,'' Kiffin said. "It's all speculation. It really is. I'm just telling you, that's all I can tell you, it is speculation.''

So speculate away and picture Kiffin on Rocky Top and wearing orange and white next season. Funny, those were the same colors the Buccaneers used to wear when Kiffin arrived in Tampa Bay in 1996.

Thirteen seasons later, it might be time to move on. Kiffin is 68 and has a chance to bring instant credibility to his son's regime. And, really, is there anything left to prove with the Bucs?

No, Kiffin's done it all and let's not forget that. Years from now, people will look back and give Tony Dungy, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber credit for taking the Bucs from laughingstock to annual playoff contender. They'll talk about how Jon Gruden came in and got the team its first Super Bowl and kept them consistently competitive through time.

It would be a shame if history doesn't include Kiffin in those conversations. He's meant as much to this franchise as any of the above and he's done it through two regimes that are about as different as can be.

For 13 years, Kiffin (and Brooks) has been the constant on the Tampa Bay defense. Play along here and ask yourself what you think of when you think of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

I'm guessing you're saying either the pirate ship in the end zone or great defense. It wasn't always that way around here and Kiffin's a big part of the reason.

Back before Kiffin followed Dungy to Tampa Bay, the Bucs played in an old stadium that was a shrine to concrete and they lost an awful lot. There was talk of the team moving to Los Angeles, Sacramento or Orlando.

But a funny thing happened before the Bucs could bolt. All of the sudden, they got very good. Kiffin came in preaching aggressive defense and showing his players movies with animals attacking one another to fire them up the night before a game. He brought the "Tampa 2 Defense'' into the NFL's vocabulary and watched as former assistants Herm Edwards, Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli went on to head-coaching jobs.

All the while, Kiffin was a rock as coaches and players came and went. You just kind of thought he'd always be here. But that's no longer looking like the reality.

"Tonight isn't about Monte Kiffin,'' Kiffin said. "It's about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, our defensive football team, Jon Gruden, our offense, our special teams and a great, great win. And we're 9-3.''

That's all true, but the Bucs are 9-3 largely because they have Kiffin. Sunday's win had Kiffin's signature all over it. Six days after New Orleans ran up 51 points against Green Bay, Kiffin's defense made Drew Brees look rather ordinary. The Bucs intercepted Brees three times and held him to a quarterback rating of 60.2. Sure, Brees threw for 296 yards, but that's 4 yards less than 300 and that's another tribute to Kiffin. The last time the Bucs allowed a quarterback to throw for 300 yards was Brees in the season opener.

"I thought Monte did a great job once again mixing up his defenses,'' Gruden said. "We played some man-to-man, we blitzed, played some different kinds of zone and our guys played well. Our defense played really well and I hope they get a lot of credit.''

This defense will go on after Kiffin. In the last couple of years guys like Barrett Ruud, Tanard Jackson, Aqib Talib and Gaines Adams have started to emerge as the heir apparents to Brooks and Barber. On the current staff, Larry Coyer and Raheem Morris have the résumés to step in as defensive coordinator and there's always the possibility former Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli could become available if he's fired as Detroit's head coach.

Tampa Bay's defense isn't going to suddenly fall apart if Kiffin leaves. His Tampa Bay legacy will continue to grow as long as this season goes on -- and it should go on long after that.

Monte's last stand?

November, 30, 2008
11/30/08
2:07
PM ET
 
 Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
 Monte Kiffin will reportedly join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- It looks like Monte Kiffin, the best defensive coordinator in the National Football League, will be leaving the league.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting Kiffin will join his son, Lane, who is taking over as head coach at the University of Tennessee. Mortensen reports Monte Kiffin will finish the season with the Bucs. He's been Tampa Bay's coordinator since 1996.

The Bucs haven't made any comment on the situation, but there are some in-house candidates if Kiffin does leave. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, who has been mentioned as a candidate for coordinator positions elsewhere in the past, would seem to be the most likely candidate.

Another possibility could be former Tampa Bay defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. He currently is coaching the winless Detroit Lions, but could be out of a job after the season is over.

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