Overview: Ah, the Tampa Two Defense. It requires a special hybrid player combining strength, speed, and explosiveness unlikely probably any other defensive scheme the NFL has even known. Explosive defensive linemen collapsing the pocket. Linebackers and defensive backs flying to the ballcarrier and gang tackling him like they were dog piling on a fumbler. Featured in that defense is a star linebacker on the weak side out of Florida State. An incredible football player capable of doing almost everything. Streaking across the field and making stops in the backfield from behind the play on strong-side runs. Making a form tackle at the line on weakside counter and misdirection runs. Defending an angle or go route on the running back and making a game-saving pass break up. To sum up the play of that ex-Seminole linebacker in the Tampa Two defense...outstanding.
So how about ol' Geno Hayes this year? ERRRRRRRRRRR---------- Now hold on just a minute, Craig... don't you mean Double Nickles, 55, Derrick Brooks? Well... yes, of course. He's arguably the greatest Buccaneer in team history. He's my favorite all-time Buc. No one did it better at linebacker in the NFL over the past 14 years than Derrick Brooks and he'll be in Canton in 5 years as the second Hall of Fame Buccaneer. We'll also certainly see "Brooks" across from "Selmon" in the Ring of Honor sooner than later. However, Geno Hayes, while not a Derrick Brooks-in-his-prime-clone by any means, is starting to play Derrick's position with surprising effectiveness of late.
Following the 38-7 blowout loss at the hands of the Saints and the demotion/firing of Jim Bates and subsequent return to the Tampa Two defense, Geno Hayes has begun to put his mark on this defense. The following week against Atlanta, he spearheaded the transitioning Buccaneer defense with 9 total tackles in holding the Atlanta running game to only 75 yards rushing, a stark comparison to the 170/game it was allowing through the first 10 games. The next week at Carolina, he made an interception on an underneath hitch pass and finished third on the team in stops with 4 before dinging up his hamstring, which caused him to miss the next game against the Jets. However, he rebounded nicely against the Seahawks making a couple of splash plays with an interception and sack of Matt Hasselbeck.
He's made quite an impression on his fellow teammate and potential Hall of Famer, Ronde Barber. Said Ronde about Hayes on Tuesday night's Total Access show (I didn't catch all of the show, but quote is per Pewter Report):
"His body movement is stellar and not many guys can move like Geno can. When he gets his above-the-neck game to the point where Derrick's was, it's going to be something special. He's got a long way to go to fill Derrick's shoes. Fifty-five was about as special at that position as you can ever be. He's a unanimous player of the decade kind of guy so it's asking a lot of Geno, but he definitely has the potential to be that guy. He's just got to fill in all the blanks to fill out what Derrick had on his resume, and Geno can do that. He's just got to spend time at it, learn to perfect his craft, learn to be a professional even more than he is, and then he'll be on his way to greatness."
For those wondering whether Ronde thinks Geno Hayes has the raw ability of Derrick Brooks, he stated:
"I think he has as much talent as Derrick."
Wowsers. High praise from a highly-regarded Buccaneer and NFL star. Let's take a closer look at what the high-praise has come from lately:
Video Highlights: This cat just brings pure speed to the table...which tends to be rather useful as a weakside linebacker chasing down the ballcarrier across the field. Strong-right one-back shotgun formation, halfback draw to the weak side of the field. As you can see, the Redskins' line blocked down to the left on the defensive line, with the center and left guard doubling Hovan and the left tackle taking on our end. Unfortunately for Washington, they didn't need to double down Hovan based on the direction the play was going. The double team by the guard left an alley for Hayes, and he made a quick, instinctive play and blew through the hole for a solo tackle in the backfield.
Next, the Redskins call an off-set I-formation offtackle lead run to the right. The entire offensive line moves to the right towards their areas in a zone-blocking scheme. However, before they can get to their area, Geno sniffs out the play and blows straight through between the center and left guard and makes a great tackle for loss on the tailback. Just incredible speed for Geno to get to the ballcarrier going in the opposite direction that far in the backfield.
Finally, Geno makes it two consecutive years of punt block success. After blocking a punt and returning it for a TD against Carolina last year, he followed it up with an athletic, splashly play in the Bucs' big win against the Packers. Trailing 14-7, Geno comes up the middle unblocked through the line and gets his hands on the ball on the run without having to dive. Typically you'll see a special teams safety or cornerback make that play, but our weakside linebacker flashed amazing speed and made the play that helped carry the Bucs to victory.
Prospects for Week 16: The Cowboys laid the blueprint to stop the Saints (and pretty much anybody) last week...get pressure on Brees with 4 or 5 guys and drop the rest into underneath zone coverage, taking away the throws over the middle to Shockey, Colston, Meacham, and David Thomas. The Bucs are certainly a base 4-3 team, but they could possibly go 3-4 on occasion and use Black (and Hayes some) as a disguised rush DE to hurry Brees. I think that would likely be Black more often than not, so that would put Hayes in zone coverage on the right 5-15 yard area and on the back in man coverage or on the backside TE. As well as he's been in coverage lately and as improved as the Bucs have been in collapsing the pocket, I think Hayes will get a pass break up or two and possibly a shot at a third straight game with an interception.
What do you think of Geno so far at WLB? Impressed? Need to see more? Think he may have what it takes to stick around at the position long term?