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Bucs prepared to work against Cleveland’s 3-4 defense

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The Cleveland Browns, like the Tampa Bay Bucs, have struggled in recent seasons.

So what can the Browns offer the Bucs in this week’s shared practices?

Start with alignment. The Browns use a 3-4 defense, which will be a new sight for the Bucs. The 3-4 is a different defense to block, and different for a quarterback to read.

“Cleveland is a 3-4 defense and we’re going to see like eight 3-4 teams over the course of the year, so two extra days of working against a 3-4 are huge and then they’re a zone-read team on offense,” Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter said. “That’s not all they do, but over the first couple of games they’ve probably averaged, I’ll say, six or seven zone-read plays a game where the first two teams (we played), not so much. And we need to see zone-read for down the road when we play teams like San Francisco and Seattle and Carolina, of course. Each team is a little bit different, but just playing and working against different guys is good.”

 Koetter said that playing against a 3-4 team requires more game-planning.

“We run some stuff that we want to work on for 3-4 teams, but game planning is serious business,” he said. “I probably spend, on a real week, I probably spend close to 40 hours working on a game plan. I just don’t have 40 hours, none of our coaches do right now and things are changing. A lot of your regular game planning is key to specific personnel, and when they’re playing three-deep, like we may want to attack X, Y and Z. X in the pass game, Y in the run game, Z on the perimeter. But now those guys play two series, well it just doesn’t make sense to game plan, you don’t have time, you’ve got other stuff going on. Our game plans are much more detailed and that’s why, as we talked about the other night, preseason is a catch-22. You want to win because they’re keeping score, but at the same time, the preseason was set up to evaluate your team to how you’re going to get from 90 down to your final cuts, your 53, that’s what it was set up for. I’ve been game planning for 35 years, I don’t need to practice game planning.”

For the Bucs, there are different rules to attack the defense.

“Yeah, every year you have basically what you’d call your even front rules and your odd front rules,” Koetter said. “So we’re working a lot on our odd front rules on plays. And one thing Cleveland does that makes it challenging is they’ll mix back and forth – even within a series, they’ll switch back between even and odd. So that’s one of the problems a 3-4 presents for an offense, is they make you be on top of your communication. You’re not always blocking the same rules. Typically the outside linebackers in 3-4 are really just big defensive ends, so in pass protection you’re trying to keep your backs from not having to block those guys. You want to make your calls so that your linemen are blocking those outside backers and your backs are responsible for the inside guys. In a 4-3, you’re fine. Look at (linebacker) Lavonte David as our outside linebacker and from a size standpoint, we’d be fine with our back blocking a size guy like that.”

Koetter praised rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, who had two interceptions Saturday night.

“Thinking about moving him to receiver,” Koetter said. “Those were two great catches, two beautiful plays. His range on the one when he was at nickel, you’re not going to see many – well, [cornerback] Brent Grimes might argue – but you’re not going to see a whole lot of better catches than those two.”

Koetter said those were the kinds of plays that undersized corners have to make.

“They have to have good ball skills, and our guys do,” Koetter said. “They have to be explosive to the ball, and our guys are. Like we said before, they’re not going to grow, we’re not going to change them out at this point, our corners are who they are. We’re happy with them, we like what they’re doing but they’ve got to be able to go get the ball. I think that Grimes, there [were] two examples in the Jacksonville game, and both times he should’ve had safety help but he didn’t, the safety got out of position.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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