When 2007 began most people expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to improve, but not to the extent that they did by the end of the year. A division championship was an unexpected gift to Buccaneers fans and the franchise. How did it happen?
In hindsight, there are signposts to a successful season. Here is No. 1 in our series of the most significant moments of the 2007 season and how they impacted Tampa Bay's run to a division championship.
1. TAMPA BAY SIGNS RAHEEM MORRIS, GUS BRADLEY AND LARRY COYER TO DEFENSIVE COACHING STAFF, JANUARY
After the Bucs defense finished 2006 ranked No. 17, something had to change. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin stayed. Everyone else on the defensive staff left. Linebackers coach Joe Barry joined his father-in-law, Rod Marinelli, in Detroit. Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Greg Burns were fired.
In came the three men that would help Kiffin re-shape the defense.
Defensive line coach Larry Coyer came from Denver, where as the defensive coordinator he became Mike Shanahan's scapegoat after the Broncos faltered. Coyer also worked with the defensive linemen in Denver and turned a bunch of Browns castoffs into competent linemen in the Broncos' system.
In Tampa Bay he blended together a group of veterans (Kevin Carter, Greg Spires) and youngsters (Gaines Adams, Jovan Haye, Greg White) into a cohesive unit that really came on in the second half of the season after being challenge by both head coach Jon Gruden and Kiffin.
Bradley flew under the radar most of the season, but his most significant work was preparing new starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to replace Shelton Quarles. He worked under Barry last year and his transition was seamless. He kept Derrick Brooks trucking to another great season and helped blend newcomer Cato June into the defense without much fuss.
Secondary coach Raheem Morris became the rising star. He turned the maligned secondary of 2006 and turned it into one of the best units in the NFL in 2007. He helped Ronde Barber maintain his level of play, elevated Phillip Buchanon's and re-instilled some confidence in safety Jermaine Phillips. Plus, he turned rookie Tanard Jackson into an immediate starter at free safety.
He did it all with a smile on his face. A Mike Tomlin disciple, he took Tomlin's lessons, applied them to his pupils and got tremendous play out of them, especially early in the season as they made up for the Bucs' struggling pass rush.
Sometimes coaches don't mean that much. In 2007, with the need for improved play on defense, the Bucs made the right choices at the start of the year and set forth the path for defensive improvement.
Next: How one quarterback changed the course of Tampa Bay's season.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.