The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn’t get after the quarterback in 2017. They were dead freaking last with 22 sacks that year, unable to generate heat with a ho-hum group.
They took a huge step up last season, with a respectable, middle-of-the-pack 38 sacks -- with 31.5 coming from defensive lineman.
Credit should be spread around some – Jason Pierre Paul gave the Bucs’ front some swagger – but position coach Brenston Buckner deserves a helping for such a turnaround in his first year with Tampa Bay.
The Raiders are hoping for a similar uptick. They were dead last with 13(!!) sacks in 2018, with only five sacks returning to the defensive front. Yeesh. That’s so bad the criticism bears repeating.
They added three NFL draft picks, including No. 4 overall selection Clelin Ferrell to the mix, and hired Buckner to strengthen a defensive line that might be the team’s greatest weakness and certainly an unproven commodity.
“I don’t consider myself a coach. I consider myself a teacher,” Buckner said on The Raiders Insider Podcast. “I want to teach these guys how to be better players who are more productive on the field. The 13 sacks did not scare me away.
“…There’s a thin between being good and bad in the NFL. These guys are good players, and I want to help them realize how good they can be. I didn’t come here wanting to chase sacks. I’m trying to create great football players who will naturally generate pressure. I’m not a miracle worker. I’m just here to help guys become better football players.”
This defensive line will remain a work in progress beyond this season, as talent is added in future offseasons and experience is gained. Right now, Buckner’s working with four rookies, a first-year player and three second-year guys. Only four defensive linemen on the 90-man roster have at least four years experience, and some might not make it to the fall.
That won’t alter Buckner’s syllabus one bit.
“I can go back to the basics, and that’s what football’s all about,” Buckner said. “It’s not a science. It was created by P.E. majors, for P.E. majors. It’s a simple, fundamental act of going out there and forcibly make a man do something he doesn’t want to do. My job is to give them tools to allow their athletic ability to dominate.”
Buckner discussed several key players on this week’s Raiders Insider Podcast. Here’s what he had to say about some prominent members of the defensive line:
“He’s a great person off the field. We checked with everybody. Then you turn on the film, and this guy was productive on one of the best teams in college football over a long period of time against great competition. The better the competition was, the better he played. He was a lead dog, out there in the front. I like that about his personality. What I like most of all is that he’s always willing to do extra to make his teammates better.
“He’s not the classic top 5 pick, where it’s all about me, me, me. His mindset is on what he can do to help the team get better. By doing that, he’s always pushing himself to be at his best because it means more to not let his team down that does to reach his (individual) goals.”
“Maxx has the size you love to see in a defensive end, and he also has speed to chase off the end and do a lot of things. Even though he went to a smaller program, he was productive against everyone he played against. He has the body and mindset and the attitude. That’s a big thing for me.
When I turned on the film, you could see his attitude in how he played the game. He hated being blocked. He competed until the end. His ‘strain plays,’ meaning he had to run someone down from behind or chase plays that weren’t coming to him, he busted his tail to get there. Those plays were better than almost anyone in the draft. That’s one thing you can’t coach.
"You can’t coach effort, and that’s something Maxx brought to the table."
“One thing he has that 99 percent of the defensive ends don’t have: the man runs a 4.33 (40-yard dash). He has speed. I definitely can’t coach that. He’s a guy who was a blank piece of paper just learning the position, but he has the skills and the want to get better.
"He looked so raw at the beginning of last year, but later on you can tell he knows what he’s doing. He progressively got better and better. When you get those type guys, you know that, three or four years down the road, they’ll be better than what they are now."
Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall
“You had young guys who had to learn on the job last year, which it one of the hardest things to do. You’re learning from your mistakes and trying to keep your head up high while you’re struggling. That’s going to help them in the long run.”
“We joked with him about this today. He arguably missed 13 sacks. When I say missed, it was him and the quarterback and he either missed the tackle or slipped or something. There are ways to help technique-wise. This game isn’t all about brute strength. There are techniques to help you get one more inch closer to the guy, and now instead of just missing or trying to make a one-arm tackle, you can get both arms around and make a play. That’s what Arden is working on.
“Arden can be a special guy. Arden was a special guy at LSU. He was a special guy coming out of high school. He has the talent. Now we as coaches have to hone in and he has to hone in (on technique). He has been working hard knowing that he can’t leave anything on the table. He can be a well-rounded football player.
"He’s getting stronger and faster and more technical. He wants to master the technique and disciplines of playing defensive line. That’s what it’s all about.”