Leo's Late Hits: Musings With Monte

May 16 – Buccaneer Magazine managing editor Leo Haggerty recently sat down and had a one-on-one Q&A session with Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Why did the Bucs ultimately part ways with cornerback Donnie Abraham? Are some of the players on Tampa Bay's defense getting slower with age? What has the addition of head coach Jon Gruden done for the defense? Find out the answers to these questions and more in this addition of Leo's Late Hits.

Buccaneer Magazine managing editor Leo Haggerty recently sat down with Bucs defensive coordinator and guru Monte Kiffin. Here's how Kiffin responded to Haggerty's questions during their one-on-one Q&A session.

Q: What one thing does the defense have to do to improve over the 2001 campaign?
A: We need to make sure that we don't beat ourselves. There we some times last year, like the Chicago game at Raymond James Stadium, where we played a great game but gave up three big plays. We can't just give away games like we did that day.

Q: How nice is it to go into the 2002 season with the same defensive coaching staff that you had last year?
A: It's really nice. Mike Tomlin and Joe Barry are two young coaches and last year was their first in our system. They did an outstanding job and you can tell right now that they feel more comfortable. Last year they spent this time trying to get familiar with the system.

Q: Some of the defensive players are getting a little older and are they getting slower with age?
A; I don't know for sure but I do know we are getting older at certain positions on defense. I feel that we still have guys that can contribute and make plays for us so this shouldn't be a problem for us.

Q: Was Donnie Abraham a cap casualty or had the other defensive backs passed him by?
A: It was a little bit of both. We couldn't afford to sign all three cornerbacks (Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly along with Abraham. It was a shame because Donnie had started for us since he was a rookie and had done a lot for the defense especially with interceptions.

Q; Was this just a bad year for linebackers in the draft or is it a trend that colleges linebackers are not the same as the professional linebacker?
A: This was just a bad year for linebackers. There's just no question about it. The college linebacker will fit into the professional system but there just weren't a lot of talented linebackers in the draft.

Q: How important is it for the defense to come out of the gate strong the first quarter of the season while the offense is learning Jon Gruden's system?
A: It's very important that we start the season well on the defense but I think a lot of people are going to be surprise with how well we play offensively. Coach Gruden isn't using that as an excuse not to be ready and our people on defense can see that. It's a battle every day out at practice and this offense really tests us.

Q: Is the enthusiasm level gone up with the players and coaches with Gruden coming to Tampa Bay?
A: Oh yeah. Now with Jon being the head coach and the offensive coordinator there's a lot more emphasis put on the offense. It's a level playing field now because there's as much pressure put on the offense to succeed as there is for the defense to succeed. Coach Gruden brings that intensity to the offensive side of the ball.

Q: Are there any regrets in leaving the NFC Central for the NFC South?
A: No because I thought we would get away from the cold weather and Brett Favre but the league has us playing the NFC North this season and that's all the teams that were in the NFC Central with us last year. We not only have to play against Green Bay with Favre and Minnesota with Culpepper but we have to see Michael Vick twice a year. Oh, he's going to be good. All the reports I'm getting out of Atlanta is that he's really looking good. He gives them another running back at quarterback and they got the little guy (Warrick Dunn) up there with him. He'll be even better on Astroturf.

Q: Are you still looking to add players on the defensive?
A: I think we're still looking at some people but I think we'll wait a little bit. We want to see who becomes available after June 1.

Q: Is this a defense that can't be on the field 13 to 15 times a game or they are going to get worn down?
A: That's really not that big a problem. In fact, I'm really all right with that. I think any breakdown that you have on defense is something you have to correct. I'm not going to blame the offense for any of our losses. We had a chance to stop people and, in a lot of games, we just didn't get the job done.

Q: Why do you have so much success against the St. Louis Rams?
A: When we went out there in 1999 we just played so well in the NFC Championship game in St. Louis. We were hitting on all cylinders as a defense when we played the Rams. After we went out to Oakland and got beat so bad we put it together against Green Bay then at Chicago to win the Central Division. We continued that run against Washington in the playoffs. It's funny but we stayed in the same hotel in St. Louis that we stayed in 1999 and played another great game. It's funny but I was happy to see St. Louis on the 2002 schedule.

Q: Is there anything in particular that you want to get out of the next mini-camp?
A: We really have to look at a lot of the young players. Plus we have to get some of the other guys back. We haven't had Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Marcus Jones or Nate Webster at both mini-camp sessions and Brian Kelly broke his hand at the first mini-camp. We just need to get everybody out there working.

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