Why the Bucs defensive line should be drastically improved in 2011

Pass rush specialist Keith Millard has a crop of young and talented players to work with here in Tampa.
Pass rush specialist Keith Millard has a crop of young and talented players to work with here in Tampa. /
Pass rush specialist Keith Millard has a crop of young and talented players to work with here in Tampa.
Pass rush specialist Keith Millard has a crop of young and talented players to work with here in Tampa. /

Perhaps the biggest offseason acquisition the Buccaneers made this year will never play a single down for the franchise.  No, I’m not referring to Michael Koenen and the running gag of punters not being actual football players.  He has a uniform, doesn’t he? Sure it’s a pristine uniform that never needs to be washed by the team trainers…but I digress.  Despite not signing a single new player, I firmly believe that the Buccaneers significantly upgraded their defensive front when they added former NFL great and pass rush guru Keith Millard as defensive line coach this past February.  Here is my evidence.

Millard, 49, played for nine seasons as a defensive tackle with four different teams.  He is best remembered for his dominance of the mid to late ‘80s as a member of the Minnesota Vikings when he racked up 50 sacks in just five seasons.  His 1989 single season record of sacks by a defensive tackle (18) still stands, and he was named to the ‘80s All-Decade Team along with 2 Pro Bowl and 1st Team All-Pro selections.  However, since we are thankfully beyond the Jon Gruden/Bruce Allen era, Millard has not been signed to actually play for the team.  Therefore, his past coaching credentials are a bit more relevant than his playing career.

He spent several years as an NFL defensive line coach with Denver and Oakland, and has since set up a pass rush academy from which he dispenses his knowledge to everyone interested in line play from Pop Warner to elite NFL players.  Millard’s first stop in Denver is difficult to measure because the Broncos ran an inordinate number of blitzes during his tenure, though according to sources he was in charge of designing “all pass rush techniques” used by the entire defense.  Denver averaged 36.5 sacks per year during his two year stay, and the sacks were fairly evenly distributed amongst the linebackers, defensive lineman, and safeties.  However, the stop Bucs’ fans should most pay attention to is the job that Millard did when he arrived in Oakland before the 2005 season.

The Raiders were simply a mess defensively.  The team had attempted a shift to a 3-4 defense and it failed miserably.  The defense as a whole managed only 24 sacks, while the defensive line only had 11.5 sacks.  Enter Millard.  The Raiders as a team were still a disaster, but the team sack total rose to 36 in 2005, with an astounding 31.5 coming from the defensive line alone.  That’s right.  The Raiders defensive line tripled their output.  However, I think what happened in 2006 was even more impressive.

By almost every account 2006 was probably the worst team in Oakland Raider history, and, to be honest, that is saying something.  They ranked dead last in points scored, total yards, and turnovers.  Their quarterbacks were also sacked an incredible 72 times!  However, if one looks at the defense, especially the defensive line, one can see a few eye-popping stats.  First of all, the Raiders had a very stingy defense, ranking third in the league in total yards allowed.  The sack numbers dipped a bit to 34 as a team, but remained proportionately high along the defensive line with a very respectable 28 sacks as a unit.  What makes those numbers really stand out is the fact that the Raiders faced the least amount of pass attempts in the entire league (410).  To put in in statistical terms, for roughly every 15 pass attempts by the opponent, the Raiders’ defensive line recorded a sack.  For reference, the 2006 Chicago Bears had best defensive line by all accounts, racking up 36.5 sacks.  However, when broken down using the “sacks per pass attempt” stat, the Bears ranked slightly behind the Raiders with a sack every 16 pass attempts.

That was a bit statistical, I know, but the point is this: the 2006 Oakland Raiders were the most efficient defensive line in the National Football League, and they were under the guidance of Keith Millard.  That makes me more than a little excited to have him coaching our young and talented group of Bucs linemen.  Just for fun, let’s use Millard’s past success to project what could happen this season.  In 2010, the Buccaneers as a team managed a total of 26 sacks, not unlike the 24 produced by the Raiders in the year prior to their hiring of Millard.  The defensive line was very unproductive last year, notching only 15 sacks in 16 games.  It is a bit absurd to project the Buccaneers to triple their sack numbers like the 2005 Raiders did and reach 45, but something in the realm of 25-30 sacks as a defensive line is probably reasonable.  Perhaps some of you will think that is too low of a number, but remember that he has only been working with the players for a shade over a week.  For those that think it may be a bit high, it is quite possible that the front line is again the weak link defensively, but I honestly trust Coach Millard’s track record as a highly technical and successful pass rush coach.  And if you don’t believe me, let one of his former pupils (and a Bucs legend) tell you what he thinks:

"“Keith Millard is one of only two coaches (Rod Marinelli- Bears) who has the knowledge and skill, plus the temperament to coach, teach and prepare the defensive lineman of today’s NFL landscape.  Those looking for a teacher as well as a fellow hunter to attack offenses, just take a look and I guarantee you will love what you see. It was a pleasure to work with Keith for 3 years.” -Warren Sapp"

It was Sapp who encouraged the Buccaneers to hire Millard, and by all accounts, the current players at One Buc Place have taken to their new teacher (and fellow hunter of offenses?) very quickly.  Both Michael Bennet and rookie Adrian Clayborn had heaps of praise for Millard in a recent Tampa Tribune article.  Said Clayborn, “It’s amazing how much the guy knows in terms of technique.”  Perhaps the highest praise of all came from Gerald McCoy who said simply, “You get coached by the originator.  It doesn’t get better than that. “