Bill Sheridan views himself first and foremost as a teacher. And in that regard, the new defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been immersed in formulating a basic study plan for his mostly young players.
Call it, Introduction to Preventing the Long Play 101.
Indeed, when Sheridan and head coach Greg Schiano scrutinized film of last years woeful Bucs defense a unit that set a new standard for most points allowed in franchise history, 494 he was taken aback by the number of long plays permitted by the unit, often resulting from poor technique and insufficient hustle.
But he says he also a saw a silver lining in the porous performances.
The one really encouraging thing weve seen as we watch the film is that all of it is correctable, Sheridan told the media Tuesday at One Buc Place. Thats one thing that can and will be corrected the sheer volume of big plays, what I call plays of 20 yards or more. A lot of (fixing) that has to do with great effort and pursuit to the ball. Greg and I saw that exactly the same.
Sheridan has frequently taught that style as a linebackers coach. He held that position with the New York Giants from 2005-08, and spent the past two seasons as linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins. But in 2009, two seasons after the Giants won the Super Bowl, he served as defensive coordinator after Steve Spagnuolo departed to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
It was a humbling experience, as New Yorks defense wound up allowing 427 points the second-most in franchise history. The Giants started 5-0 but lost eight of their last 11 games and gave up a franchise-record 40 or more points five times.
Before he could be asked about what happened, Sheridan introduced the topic at his introductory press conference and offered an explanation, saying it was precisely what he told Schiano during his interview.
I took and take full responsibility for the fact we didnt play good enough defense at the end of the year when I was coordinating it, he said. I was put in charge, and the bottom line is at the end of the year, we didnt keep the people out of the end zone well enough to be successful.
Sheridan then offered some additional background about what went wrong.
When I was in New York, I inherited the job there, he said. I was promoted from within, so we maintained the exact same staff that we had had the previous three or four years, with the exception of the linebacker coach we brought in to replace me.
We though started off 5-0 and had the No. 1 defense in the NFL, after sustaining a couple of season-ending injuries to a couple of our starters (linebacker) Antonio Pierce, (safety) Kenny Phillips we started to falter. And we hit a skid in the middle of the season. In hindsight, one of the things we probably did was we assumed as a defensive staff because wed made the playoffs for four previous years that things would get turned around.
In addition, Sheridan said he and his staff attempted to simplify the defensive game plan to make it easier for newly signed free agents to master. That, however, only seemed to make matters worse.
We tried to be very simple for them to give them a chance to execute, he said. But in hindsight, I think we may have been guilty of being too simple. . . . We werent posing enough issues we were playing against.
What excites Sheridan now is a chance to build from scratch, coordinating for a defensive-minded head coach who shares his vision for an aggressive, physical style of play from Tampa Bays 4-3 alignment.
Greg is assembling a great coaching staff, people coming from different backgrounds, Sheridan said. Now as we go through OTAs here and in the preseason camp, we will be going over everything in tremendous detail to make sure were on the same page. Nothing will be assumed, because we have not been together. So thats kind of exciting, from that standpoint.
Heres what Sheridan had to say on some topics:
On hitting it off right away in his initial meeting with Schiano:
Right from the get-go, I think we saw a lot of things on a very eye-to-eye level, especially how we thought defensive football should be played and taught. . . . The No. 1 statistic in defensive football is (points allowed), and that will, obviously, be an emphasis in everything we do. If you can keep people out of the end zone, youre going to win games in this league. Another concept I know Greg talked about . . . we absolutely believe in being physical and out-physically our opponent and actually trying to physically dominate our opponent. We recognize this is predominantly a passing league, and I know the fans love to see the ball thrown all over the park. But we understand that games are won on the front. We have a good, young front here, and were definitely going to talk to and coach our players about being aggressive and attacking.
On dealing with players:
In the time Ive been in the NFL, I think all NFL players want to be great and theyre willing to do whatever youll lead them to do to be great. They all want to be successful and win games. And if you can show them how to do that and be demanding of them, thats something we will definitely, as a defensive and full staff, be with our players. They may never get to the expectations we have . . . but (we will be) demanding of your players in regards to their effort and their execution. Those are the two things that win in the National Football League. If you can get your players to believe in your system and play as hard as they possibly can each down, and get them to execute their jobs within the defense, thats what wins.
On his teaching style:
We view ourselves as teachers. Our job is to communicate not only the schemes we expect but also to motivate them to perform them at the top level. And everything we do will be with energy and urgency, even though the season is a marathon. But on a moment to moment basis, there has to be a sense of urgency from 8 a.m. position meetings to every single thing you do in practice. Everything will have a tremendous amount of urgency to it. Our staff is all about correcting and teaching. Were not interested in justifying or explaining. Were about finding what the issues are, correcting them and getting them taught to the extent we need to (so we can) win.
On what he likes about the defense from what hes seen:
In general, theyre young, which I think is great. Because it can only get better. Guys arent stuck in a five- or six-year rut. Maybe if theyve been in the league a half-dozen years, thats probably what they are as a player. So our players are young and theyre only going to get better. I think we have a potentially very good, young front, which is a great way to be. The team that just won the Super Bowl won that way. And thats how we won it in (the 2007 season), as well.
On one of the common threads he noticed in the long plays yielded by the Bucs last season:
There wasnt any pressure. And I dont just mean four-down (lineman) pressure. Of course, if you can pressure the quarterback with four down, youre going to win in the NFL. But from a schematic standpoint, the one thread we noticed when we watched is it was all just a four-man rush. . . . Its not to imply that the Bucs didnt pressure last year, and, obviously, they had more success when they did.
On the philosophy of an aggressive defense he shares with Schiano:
Everything we do defensively, even in a non-pressure scheme, will be all aggressive, across-the-line-of-scrimmage technique, especially our front. We always say, We dont let the offense climb up on us. You definitely have to pressure in this league. You cant just rush four and say were good enough on the back end or good enough on the front four. If you can do that, great. And theres a place for that in every single game. But you need to pressure . . . and you have to do it in a calculated form. Because the offenses get prepared for that, too. And if they know whats coming, theyll have an answer for it.