The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a big move on Monday as they named Mark Duffner the interim defensive coordinator after the firing of Mike Smith.
It has been over 15 years since Duffner has last been a defensive coordinator at any level, but head coach Dirk Koetter felt most confident in promoting the linebackers coach. I don’t think there was truly a better option out there anyway.
Some would argue Brentson Buckner, the current defensive line coach, but he is most familiar with a 3-4 defense and the Buccaneers simply don’t have the personnel to run that just yet.
Wednesday was the first time in which the media got a chance to speak with Duffner after his promotion and he offered a bit of insight into his approach on the defensive side of the ball.
“I believe our approach has always been we play defense as aggressively as we possibly can. That doesn’t define meaning necessarily all blitz or pressure. That means that you play hard, that you play physical, you play smart – all those words kind of go into that word, ‘aggressive’,” Duffner said. “You can play aggressive coverage and be in zone defense. You can play aggressive run defense and not be in a pressure situation, so I think aggressive and physical is what we’ve got to be on defense. Defense has no room for being soft.”
That last line to me was telling. Coaches will never throw other coaches under the bus, but this Buccaneers defense is soft. Duffner may never admit it, but under Mike Smith, it was. Plain and simple, it just wasn’t a physical defense for four quarters and I suspect that will change under Duffner. We all remember him during Hard knocks and have seen him get heated on the sideline and I think that will become contagious among everyone on the defense and not just the linebackers.
Every coach has a specific mentor, whether it be from the time they were a kid, or the time they got in the league. Coaching is a collective effort and Duffner mentioned a very prominent figure who has taught him many of the things that he knows today.
“Coach LeBeau did in a big way. I had the privilege to work with him for six years and on a daily basis learned from him. In the transition from being a college coach for 22 years and I had been a coordinator for nine and head coach for 20 years I guess and a head coach for 11 and now I’m in the NFL,” Duffner said. “ I couldn’t have had a better mentor if you will to be under and learn from than Coach LeBeau. Many, many, many other coaches that I’ve had the privilege to be with.”
LeBeau is known for that aggressive type of defense and while it will be hard to implement many things in six short days, the Buccaneers defense will surely try and confuse Rookie Baker Mayfield, whom Duffner spoke highly of on Wednesday.
“I think that first of all I see a guy that’s also energetic. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of confidence. As far as what we’re going to have to do it comes back to again improving our skills in terms of fundamentals so that we can execute,” Duffner said. “Shoot, he’s a pro football quarterback, NFL quarterback who’s a first round pick. Wouldn’t be there if he didn’t have things pretty special about him. We certainly have a challenge with that in front of us.”
It’s hard to argue against the fact that the two most positive players on the defensive side of the ball week in and week out are linebackers Kwon Alexander and LaVonte David. Both players have fantastic energy and give the most they can on any given Sunday. With those two being around Duffner on a daily basis the most with him being the linebackers coach, his answer to a question today about positivity shouldn’t surprise you one bit.
“That’s just been how I approach life. That’s my personality, so I hope it’s been a big part of it with them. I believe we live each day to the fullest. If it’s drinking water or coaching linebackers or whatever it is, I’m going to do the best I can and have the most fun doing it. That’s where I’m at on that,” Duffner said.
Duffner certainly has a challenging task in front of him. I mean, he is taking over the worst defense in the history of the NFL, but with that being said, if he improves this defense just a little bit in terms of points allowed per game (currently at 34.6) then this team will be able to make a run later in the season.