The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reached into their past to find their new head coach. They are putting the final touches on a deal to appoint Lovie Smith.
The ex-Chicago Bears head coach will be paid $5 million annually to succeed Greg Schiano, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times.
Smith was perhaps the marquee name on this year's coaching market. He was considered harshly treated by the Bears, who relieved him of his duties after the 2012 season, despite a 10-6 finish.
Smith was still coveted because of his renowned defensive expertise. Despite interest from other quarters, it is no surprise Smith chose the Buccaneers job.
He has strong ties with the franchise that date back to 1996. He joined Tony Dungy's first staff as part of a group of coaches who revitalised the Buccaneers.
Smith learned the nuances of the fabled Tampa 2 scheme from Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. He took that system with him to Chicago, after a brief stint as defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. Smith's Bears teams consistently fielded tough defenses.
His defense-led formula guided Chicago to two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. He was remarkably consistent during his time in The Windy City.
The Bears suffered only three losing seasons out of nine on Smith's watch. That is the kind of consistency the Buccaneers need.
The franchise has not made the postseason since 2007. The Bucs have finished with double-digit losses three times since then.
There is enough talent available for Smith to quickly reverse that trend. He will be particularly encouraged by the defensive resources at his disposal.
Smith's system is based on being able to apply strong pressure with just a front-four rush. The Buccaneers boast D-linemen good enough to make that plan work.
Tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the best in the game, while young end Adrian Clayborn is another capable pass-rusher. Things look just as promising in the secondary.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is still good enough to take away an opponent's top receiver. He may have to adapt to Smith's zone-based schemes, but Revis will be a crucial part of a new-look defense.
So will Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, who can thrive in Smith's two-deep safety coverage structure.
But while the defense should enjoy a quick turnaround under Smith, there are major question marks on offense. The biggest dilemma is at quarterback.
Rookie Mike Glennon had some promising moments in 2013, but he was very much Schiano's
choice. Smith will have to make a quick decision between either sticking with Glennon, or finding his own signal-caller.
That is a critical choice because the Bucs do possess weapons in the passing game. Veteran Vincent Jackson is still a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Ultimately though, the success of Smith's offense will be determined by the health of running back Doug Martin. A talented workhorse, Martin missed 10 games with a torn labrum in 2013.
Smith's offenses in Chicago never wowed the NFL, but the Buccaneers have a few more playmakers than many of his Bears teams. If he makes the right call at quarterback, Smith could have an offense potent enough to complement his defense.
The Bucs will rely Smith's defensive acumen to help them challenge in an NFC South featuring dynamic quarterbacks. The New Orleans Saints are annually one of the highest-scoring teams in the league behind the brilliance of Drew Brees.
The Carolina Panthers can threaten any defense thanks to the dual-threat skills of Cam Newton. While the Atlanta Falcons struggled in 2013, strong-armed passer Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White are a match for anybody.
But Smith's track record and the talent in Tampa Bay should inspire confidence. If he quickly shapes a stout defense, the Bucs will soon be competitive in a tough division.
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