Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Lovie Smith puts on blitz to fill out coaching staff

Former Chicago Bears, including Hester, could be next in fold

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 9, 2014 

Buccaneers Smith Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers new head coach Lovie Smith gestures during an NFL football news conference Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. Smith, a one-time Bucs assistant, replaces Greg Schiano, who was fired after the season ended. Smith coached the Chicago Bears for nine seasons from 2004 to 2012, winning 81 games, three division championships, two NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl berth. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)


TAMPA -- If Lovie Smith runs his offense with the same furor he has displayed in putting his staff together, expect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be operating the no-huddle most of next season.

It's by design.

Neither the team owners nor Smith want to get caught shorthanded.

The Bucs waited a long time before hiring Greg Schiano two years ago as head coach, and he couldn't get some assistants he wanted.

It might not have made a difference in the two dismal years he spent running the team, but this is different.

Expectations are high with Smith, and he wants to get the people he feels are the right fit.

With the hiring of Leslie Frazier as his defensive coordinator and the expected hiring of Tony Sparano as offensive line coach, Smith will have two former NFL head coaches on his staff and it's hard to criticize that scenario.

"I do think nowadays you can improve quickly. I didn't spend a whole lot of time figuring on what happened (Bucs going 4-12), but we have some good pieces in place on the offensive side of the ball," Smith said.

The Sparano move is critical. The offensive line was the Bucs' biggest disappointment last season and with the grind-out run game Smith wants to employ, it's imperative that the unit is either fixed or replaced with a lot of new parts.

Sparano's track record cannot be ignored, especially given what Smith wants to do with his offense.

Sparano was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins for four years. He inherited a 1-15 team and in his first season in 2008 tied an NFL record for the biggest one-season turnaround, leading the

Dolphins to an 11-5 record and AFC East title.

During his time at Miami, the Dolphins finished in the top third of the league in rushing three times. He didn't fare as well in recent stints for the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders.

The Bucs have a lot of money invested in their offensive line, which was a big disappointment, particularly during the last quarter of the season when the team lost three of its last four games.

It doesn't seem likely the Bucs want to deal with former All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, form whom they paid big money when they acquired him from the New Orleans Saints two years ago.

Oft-injured Davin Joseph could be at the end of his career after knee surgery shelved him in 2012, and he would cost the team $6 million next season.

Tackle Donald Penn, who turns 31 in April and is set to earn $6.4 million next season, is on the downside of his career and looks out of shape.

Smith couldn't make it clearer how important special teams are to him, particularly in the return game.

It gives you the impression he would like to get Devin Hester to leave the Bears and head for Tampa Bay, which could happen given Smith's enthusiasm for him and Chicago's apparent indifference because of money.

You can call him a weapon or aging weapon but at times Hester showed he was close to the top of his game. He earned close to $1.9 million on an expiring contract that the Bears consider a luxury.

Hester is one touchdown away from setting an NFL record for returns and reportedly wants to do it with the team that drafted him. But if that's not possible, why not do it for old coach Lovie Smith, who appreciates his skills.

Hester set a franchise record with 249 return yards in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins, had a questionable holding penalty negate a 62-yard score six weeks later against the St. Louis Rams and closed the season with a 39-yard kickoff return and 49-yard punt return against the Green Bay Packers.

There are have been multiple reports that Smith covets some of the players he had at Chicago and could be going after them.

At the front are unrestricted free agent cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. There is also a report that Bears defensive end Julius Peppers may ask for a release if Chicago asks him to restructure his contract as expected and join Smith. The almost 33-year-old, 10-year pro has already restructured his 2010 contract twice.

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