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New Bucs OC Dave Canales emphasizes “smart football” in introductory presser

Canales spoke about some his philosophical pillars in front of the media Wednesday.

Dave Canales speaks in front of the media Wednesday at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa, Fla.
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The Buccaneers introduced their new offensive coordinator Wednesday, as Dave Canales spoke extensively about his personal coaching approach and how that will shape the team’s offensive future.

While it’s impossible to predict the team’s course in late February, Canales made plenty of encouraging statements that should leave fans feeling a little better than when Byron Leftwich commanded the play sheet.

“Anytime you reduce football to just being mano-y-mano ball, it’s just not smart football,” Canales said, “So, anything you can do to get a matchup, an advantageous matchup or to move to gain access, we’ll do those things.”

One of the biggest struggles Tampa faced last year was refusal to consistently manufacture opportunities for both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin — and that’s talking about downfield opportunities, not lazy screens for Godwin. Several games saw Evans go target-less for huge chunks of time.

So it’s exciting to hear Canales — who spent many years coaching elite receiving talent like Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf with the Seahawks — specifically mention how he eager he’ll be to get Evans, Godwin and Co. off 1-on-1 press and give them easier releases whenever possible. It’s the exact opposite mentality of Leftwich and Bruce Arians, who largely schemed their approach on players winning their individual matchups regardless of context. That’s not how a modern NFL system functions efficiently, and it certainly didn’t work for an injury-riddled roster in 2022.

He also brought a fresh take on another painful trigger phrase for Bucs fans: “establish the run.”

“If the runs [are] not working, we’re going to throw it a little bit more, [and] if the pass isn’t working we’re going to run it a little bit more,” Canales said.

“It’s just like, ‘Do whatever it takes to win and above all, take care of the ball’. So, having that balance is critical and it’s not about establishing the run, it’s about establishing an attacking offense that makes you have to defend the run but also defend the pass. Then that’s when you become dangerous.”

For Canales, it seems clear that “balance” is not about running a certain number of times or limiting pass attempts to a certain threshold, but instead finding equilibrium within the flow of the game. That immediately should prove helpful to a unit which produced the worst rushing offense in football, largely because of its predictability.

While he admitted that he can only talk about players who are already Bucs, namely their only current QB Kyle Trask, he still mentioned how his system takes cues from multiple past influences like Jeremy Bates, Carl “Tater” Smith, Darrell Bevell, and Shane Waldron to be quarterback friendly.

“I heard Sean Payton say this the other day and I thought it was brilliant. [Payton] said, ‘You’ve got to take the quarterback off the high dive,’” Canales said. “I thought that was a brilliant way to put it because you can’t be leaning on him to make every single play all of the time.

“Teaching the quarterback how to win was critical. That’s where my training from Carl Smith – I mentioned ‘Tater’ – we call him ‘Tater’ affectionately. He really taught Russell [Wilson] how to win [and] how to manage the game. People can be critical of Russ in different areas of his game, but the one thing he has done is he has won. With the exception of this past year, he has won at a really high level. Geno [Smith] spent a couple of years sitting behind that watching it like, ‘I can do that. I can manage that.’ And then Geno allowed us to open up the playbook a little bit with some of our pass stuff that he was a little bit stronger in. So we just tilted it a little bit this way or that way based upon who the quarterback was. We are always trying to look for a way to put the quarterback in his comfort zone and build from there.”

Again, this should assuage some fan anxiety after watching Tom Brady play hero ball more often than not during this past 8-9 campaign. After all, this team would’ve finished with five wins or worse if not for last-minute Brady heroics against the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, and Arizona Cardinals.

Obviously, the coaching staff and front office need to undertake a significant roster retooling and sort out the quarterback situation — systems can only mask individual players so much. But at the least, Todd Bowles seems to have done well to find a forward-thinker like the 41-year-old Canales, who will take his first playcalling opportunity and try his best to buck the lowered expectations of a franchise in transition. And beyond the Xs and Os, he also emphasized the motivation to re-establish a culture of positive attitude and development that seemed to sag in 2022.

“We’re going to be a developmentally-minded staff that’s looking to develop ‘Player A’ to ‘Player Z.’ They are ours until they’re not,” He said. “There is no catering to this guy or that guy. We want everybody to develop their fundamental skills. Then the attitude – it starts with effort. I go back to Pete [Carroll], from day one – the very first day of spring and the very first day of camp, we critique effort first. We’re looking for people trying really hard. We will get the how to, but we’ve got to get the how much and how fast going before we can really take a step from there.”