Chicago Sun-Times

The core positions of the Tampa Two defense

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Had an interesting conversation with a defensive coach from another team at the combine last month. He talked about the cover-two defense and the core positions that fuel it. It was a good discussion and what he did was rank the core positions for the scheme.

The cover two has lost some of its glitter recently and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have thrown it overboard in favor of a scheme with bigger players under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Some of the Tampa Two's best teachers--Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin and Herm Edwards--will not be in the NFL in 2009. The Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman takes a look at the trend of teams switching to a base 3-4 scheme, including the Green Bay Packers.

Three teams from the Tampa Two tree of defenses finished in the top 11 last season. Minnesota, which is a hybrid Tampa Two with the Williams Wall at defensive tackle, was sixth. The Buccaneers came in at No. 9 and Indianapolis was No. 11. The Bears, of course, stumbled to finish 21st.

Here's how the coach broke down the core positions in the defense. We'll take a look at how the Bears are at those positions.

1. Three technique tackle.

Analysis: With a productive Tommie Harris the Bears have one of the better three techniques in the league. Coach Lovie Smith said at the combine that when he and his staff finished evaluating the 2008 season, Harris performed better than he was credited for being in 2008. When Harris is going well, he's a disruptive force and makes those around him better. The Bears are counting on more from him in 2009, especially after picking up a $6.67 million roster bonus last month. Third-round pick Marcus Harrison had a solid rookie season and has the ability to produce as a backup at the position in a rotation.

2. Cover corner.

Analysis: While the coach admitted some might substitute a pass-rushing end in this spot, he said the value of a top corner cannot be overstated. Charles Tillman had a rocky 2008 season that was inhibited by injuries to both shoulders, one that required surgery. His status as a left cornerback is the primary reason why Smith refuses to entertain the idea of moving him to free safety. A healthy Tillman is a physical performer who should have a few good seasons left in him.

3. Defensive end.

Analysis: Now you know why one of the first moves Smith made when he arrived was get in the market for a pass rusher. You can debate the contributions Adewale Ogunleye has made since he arrived, but Smith wanted a pass rusher with size that he could line up over right tackles. The Bears are counting on new line coach Rod Marinelli to bring the best out of a group that includes Alex Brown and Mark Anderson.

4. Weak-side linebacker.

Analysis: If the three technique is the signature position in the defense, this is signature position 1B. It's where Derrick Brooks starred for seasons in Tampa Bay. The prototypical WLB is an undersized player with terrific range. Coming unblocked in a lot of situations, the weak-side linebacker will pile up tackles and help in coverage. Lance Briggs might be the best in the game at the spot right now.

5. Middle linebacker.

Analysis: It helps having a linebacker who can drop deep in coverage like Brian Urlacher but he would tell you the scheme has taken him away from some of the things he does best.

6. Free safety.

Analysis: This is where the Bears come up short and have come up short for some time. They still don't have a player with the range to be a threat in coverage, someone other teams will worry about as a playmaker in the secondary. Craig Steltz may man the position starting next week in minicamp but he's only keeping the seat warm. For how long is the question. Notice, the coach doesn't put near the significance on a safety as he does a cornerback.

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I find it interesting that there are 6 core positions on an 11 man defense...I would probably not rate the corners as highly if I were doing the analysis, because they mostly pass outside receivers off to the safeties...Realistically, if you play a true Tampa 2, you don't need any more than safeties on the corners, because they are not asked to run with receivers for more than 15 yards before passing them off. Our version of the defense requires more coverage when we switch to Cover 3 or man to man frequently, so we do need decent coverage guys.

To me there are two things that a successful Tampa 2 needs to have:
1. A consistent ability to get to the QB with the front 4 only. Doesn't matter where the pressure comes from, but the front 4 have to get it done. That will allow the LBs to get off the line of scrimmage, and the outside backers will flare and block the quick slant throwing lanes at the snap...Warren Sapp was the best pass rusher on the Bucs until Simeon Rice got there, and our best pass rusher appears to be Harris.

2. The middle linebacker has to be able to cover deep middle. This takes away the TE down the seam, and helps the safeties cheat over and shorten the open window down the sideline.

Right now, we are lacking in both areas. Urlacher can't play the mug up front and still get down the middle of the field, and the front 4 can't take the QB down. Marinelli should help with one, which should in turn help with the other. Urlacher 5 yards off the ball has a much better chance of covering deep middle than Urlacher counting the center's nose hairs...

I agree 100% with the coaches breakdown of the Bears and the core of the Tampa-2 scheme. It really shows that what the Bears are missing from the days of the top 5 defensive rankings, is a free safety that can identify what the offense is doing and make a play on the ball, such as Mike Brown did in his first 3 years in the league. We need to find another Mike Brown, which will help the Bears defense get off the field on 3rd downs, and we also need our offense to control the ball longer and give the defense more rest time. These are all keys to making the Tampa-2 scheme work, the problem is, that we can`t find another Mike Brown, and maybe never will. Oh, ya, and another Wilbur Marshall wouldn`t hurt either!

TRUTHFULLY cover 2 safety is probably the easy position a defensive player can play, all you have to do is play deep and watch the ball come your way, theres not to many man to man plays so why spend a 1st round pick for someone just playing deep cover.Its starts up front, pass rush = pressure on the QB which = bad passes which = a cover 2 safety getting a lot more credit than hes worth.Tell me how many of you think a NFL WR can be covered completely for 7 to 8 seconds?I believe that Tillman and Nate is good enough to cover a guy for 4 to 5 seconds.Than you wonder why the CB's played so far off ,it because if the line takes 7 to 8 seconds to get pressure on the Qb than quick slants are the least of your worries.

round 1 WR

round 2 De

round 3 WR

round 4 FS

round 5 OL

round 6 LB

round 7 LB

Ummm if the Vikings run a Hybrid then it's not a Tampa two. Brad didn't the Lions also run a Tampa 2? You didn't mention them. The Bills also run it.

"Typically, the [Tampa 2] players don't have the prototypical size of other NFL defenders. Instead, stress is put on speed, smarts and flawless tackling. […] A quick defensive line is a must, but the middle linebacker position is the straw that stirs the drink. ”
—Bryan Mullen

Mullen is actually right while the Weakside is important, it is also easy to play because the defense funnels plays to the WIl, you don't need as much range to play the WIL. The reason the MIC and FS are so important is because they have to shut down the entire middle of the field while the corners play a short zone and dump off to the Safety, the MIC needs tons of speed and coverage ability plus the ability to close fast on the run and blitz. All in All the Mic is a much harder position to play.

As for the DE position, it is important but pressure can come from any position on the front four, Tampa had it's highest rated defenses before Rice got there.

Fact is though unless your front four look like this

#75 "Mean" Joe Greene - defensive tackle, 1969-1981 (1969 Defensive Rookie of the Year; 1972 & 1974 Defensive Player of the Year; NFL 1970s All-Decade Team; Hall of Fame)
#68 L.C. Greenwood - defensive end, 1969-1981 (NFL 1970s All-Decade Team)
#63 Ernie Holmes - defensive tackle, 1972-1977
#78 Dwight White - defensive end, 1971-1980

Then your not really doing it right. Cause this is what the Tampa 2 is based on and only when you have a dominant line like this will it work they way it should. Thats why most people don't do it, it's just to hard to build. Thats 20 Pro Bowls and 16 All Pro selections on the front four. 4 multi Pro Bowl players on the front, and thats when the Pro Bowl meant something. You can also throw in Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Mike Wagner, Glen Edwards, Jack Lambert(The MIC) and Andy Russell. I mean common could Dungy have picked a harder team to emulate. There are at least 4 HOF players there.

I have said for most of the year the Bears have slowed down to much to be a speed based team and I think I will stick with that.

Tillman is not a burner or a cover corner, he never has been, good recievers kill him.
Vasher was fast but lost a step after he hurt his hammy.
Garham has the speed but is not the best cover guy, he would be an ideal FS in the system but with questions around Vasher he is stuck at corner for the year.
Payne is slow, period
Goon has lost a step and has never been a great Pass Rusher, he was good pass rusher but not great, which is what you really need
Harris has lost a couple of steps and will always be a health risk
Hunter is too slow to cover TE's
Do we even have a starting NT/NG?
Urlacher is still better than most but has lost a step and last year they really tested his range with Brown and Payne at Safety

If it's a speed oriented defense, which it is, the Bears don't have that any more. They need to get faster and Better on the front four, a lot better, and there secondary is a mess.

If Chicago can stay healthy [this is key] they pretty much have everyone in place to effectively run the Tampa-two, other than a free safety. Tommie Harris and his three technique position is key, and Harris did get better as the season went on. I agree Marcus Harrison can play the three technique, but toward the end of the season Chicago had him at nose tackle, which I think might be a better fit for the second year defensive tackle who is the Bears biggest DT at 6-3 310lbs, but do the Bears, only time will tell? It wouldn't surprise me if the Bears move Harrison to nose tackle and bring in another three technique, maybe in the first round with Mississippi DT Peria Jerry. Jerry is probably the best three technique in this years draft and could be available for the Bears at #18, and be the best player available. With Tommie Harris knee problems through out his 5 year career, it might be a good idea to bring in a player like Jerry to help Harris man the most important position in the Bears scheme. If not Jerry in the first, maybe Missouri's Evander "Ziggy" Hood, who is a second round prospect that could also come in and help the Bears at the three technique.

As far as a safety, I like Alabama's Rashad Johnson or Western Michigan's Louis Delmas who both have the range Chicago lacks, Chicago might have a chance at either player in the second round. If not, a mid round prospects that I really like is Notre Dame's David Bruton. Bruton has nice size at 6-2 210lbs, runs a 4.5 40, and scouts say he is the most physical free safety in the draft. Bruton has the speed to cover a lot of ground as the centerfielder of the defense. Bruton is a ballhawk who has the ability to high-point the ball on the sideline for an int. As a junior Bruton had 3ints to go along with 85 tackles, and as a senior Bruton got better with 93 tackle, 3ints, and 6 pass breakups. I think Bruton flew under the radar playing on a bad Notre Dame team, with his size, ability to play the ball, and the fact he is a very physical player [hard hitter], I say draft him, I hope the Bears do GO BEARS!!

The #1 problem with the cover 2 philosiphy is the reliance on the three technique to be the dominant force on the defense that everything else revolves around. This cannot happen, like in the case of Tommie Harris the course of a game MUST go in his favor in terms of what his strength's are to succeed. If a team is up by 10 points with 10 minutes left than all the other team has to do is continue pounding on that undersized tackle position. Relying on a guy like Harris makes no sense in terms of him being able to shut down the run OR keep players off the linebackers behind him, he simply DOESN'T have the ability to make that happen. Tommie would look like and unstopable force IF their was a strong nose tackle next to him who could command and sustain a double team, but without one Tommie only makes the occasional big play. That's why Minnesota did what they are doing, so that everything is pushed to the outside, just think for a moment what Tommie would do next to big Pat Williams, it's mindboggling. It's nice to have Tommie in certain situations, like when your up on a team and can let him loose, but in games where a team can really pound you with a constant rushing attack (like Carolina or Minnesota) you need that big run stuffer who will free up everyone around him to make plays, INCLUDING a great three-technique tackle.

Ummm, nose guard to occupy 2 blockers, stuff the run, and stay square to the line of scrimmage while getting a little push up the middle. What happened to that position.

You guys really don't get it.
The cover-2 (tampa-2) is not a successful strategy anymore because teams have figured out how to get around it. That is why tampa dropped it.
The Bears are pig-headed (that is, lovie is pig-headed) and he is going to attempt to prove to the world that cover-2 is alive and well, at all costs. Well, the only thing it is going to cost is the season and lovie's career with the bears. Good riddens. If that is what it is going to take to show lovie the door, I accept it...that is..another loosing season.
It was Ron Rivera's defense that took us to the superbowl, not lovie's cover-2. That is why lovie fired ron.
And please...I don't even want to hear again that REX took us there. He didn't. The defense did.

bruton recieved good marks for most of his play...but ND coaches were quoted as saying he has terrible hands.He demonstrated this in the Senior Bowl when he dropped a lollipop to centerfield.

I know how to fix the defense, change our turf to fake grass. If we want to be built on speed, we need a fast track! Doesn't it always seem our D plays better on turf? Brad, I'd like to know the stats for our defense on turf compaired to grass.Even Steve McMichael said in his book that the Bears D lost its edge when it went to grass in the 80's. Just a thought.

I agree with most posters here, it all starts with the D line, yes Harris got better at the end of the year, but he was nowhere near as good as he needed to be, He (or that position) is key, we have to get pressure on the QB, We have some big questions this year, if they are answered we are a great D again if not we are a mediocre D again, not as bad as last year but not good enough to beat the great teams.
My gut tells me Harris has enough pride to come back but my gut also tells me that Url has taken too many hits (and who knows what OG will do) and unless they tweak his responsibities and play him off the line somewhat he will still be caught in no mans land,
Interesting year to be sure, If the Ifs are answered we rule.
If the Ifs are not answered we are a little better than last year.

I see a lot of mock drafts have the bears taking larry English from northern illinois!

1. The analysis by the defensive coach was strictly about stopping the pass, as if teams no longer run the ball. I realize that passing is far more prevalent than it used to be and that teams don't run anywhere near as much as they used to (all due to really lame rules that have been implemented over the past 35 years or so, but that's another issue), but football is still basically about blocking and tackling, and running is still a fundamental part of the game. As anyone can plainly see from the Bears and Indianapolis, without a strong safety who is a good run-stuffer, the Tampa 2 is awful against the run. This is a major defect in this system, because it depends so heavily on one player. If you either don't have that player -- such as the Bears without Mike Brown -- or that player gets hurt, you can't stop the run. For the run defense, the strong safety is the No. 1 core player in the Tampa 2.

2. Bill Holland and rg have it right. Regardless of the type of defense, it all starts with a good run stuffer at nose tackle. If that position can occupy two blockers every play, the rest of the line will have more success. Without a good nose tackle who can occupy two blockers, small players like Tommie Harris become virtually useless.

3. I've been saying this for decades, but with all the rules promulgated over the past 35 years making it so much easier to pass the ball, the 3-4 defense is the way to go. The AFC had it right in the '70s, it was just too far ahead of its time. The 3-4 is a better pass defense, because it lines up with an extra linebacker in the secondary. But one of the linebackers often blitzes, though it could be either of the outside ones or even an inside one. This causes extra problems for the offense, which has to figure out 1) whether the linebackers will play back or blitz and, if the latter 2) which linebacker will blitz. Unfortunately, this defense requires two good nose tackles who can occupy two blockers on every play and still stuff the run to some extent (taking on two blockers every play takes a lot out of a player, so you need two guys who can split time doing it). Because of Lovie Smith's attitude that "size is overrated," the Bears will never get a tackle like this as long as Smith is head coach.

I really liked today's blog. I think the coach explained several things about which I was wondering and now understand a bit better.
I still think the offensive line is the biggest need and that ball control there is also the key to a rested and eager defense.A pass-rusher at defensive end still seems to me to be a pressing need in that pressure on the quarterback leads to so many opportunities to blow open a game. The draft gets more interesting daily. I am highly curious about whom the Bears will pick and wish I knew more about college players than I do. I just could never get into college football and am thus mostly ignorant about what impact players may be out there.

Val, it's you who doesn't get it.

The 4-3 defense has been "figured out" about a billion times now, and yet it is still around - why? Because changes to these schemes are what keep them fresh.

All someone needs to do is tweak the scheme a little, and it'll be effective again.

Every defense in the league has been "figured out". Then some genius comes around and changes things, and the scheme makes a comeback. This is a copycat league - teams play follow the leader. And the 3-4 is the flavor of the month.


Good piece and most of the comments were helpful too. I am willing to stay with the Tampa 2, unlike many on this board, but I recognize what some have said here that the NFL game is more of a passing game than previously. With those two points made -- more passing and the need for a nose tackle to occupy two interior linemen -- I think the SAM (the strong side linebacker) morphs into a hybrid WIL (weak side LB) / SAM. The SAM is designed to take on TE and the strong side of the offensive formation. However with more passing the SAM will also need to have better coverage skills for those plays they are on the field in lieu of the Nickle. So finding a player who might be a smallish SAM but a good coverage WIL will help out the MIKE (Middle LB) and the strong side corner in the seams.

For these reasons, I think our needs on defense are upgrades at FS, backup DT (assuming Harrison is moved to NT) and SAM.

The cover-2 (re: cover-0) defense is the sorriest excuse for a defensive scheme I have ever seen. It is essentially playing a prevent-lite defense.

People can whine all they want about how great it is, but offensive coordinators have figured it out. Raise your hand if you're tired of inexperienced and/or underperfoming QBs picking us apart week after week.

We could conceivably win a Super Bowl with Orton at QB, but not as long as we play give-up on the other side of the ball.

I thought Adams came on strong at the end of the year as well, no one mentions him though?
Yes, I feel the Oline is the key as well, as if we control the ball it will give our smaller D linemen a much needed rest, as we blew alot of games in the 4th. I thought Angelo getting Harrison last year was a grab! Everyone else was scared off by his `problems' but hey give me a Lineman with attitude problems and usually he is a mean s o b.

i say we just bring back the 46!!!
get Buddy Ryan off his couch and let him teach our bears the 46!!!
opposing offenses would be CLUELESS!!!

Whoa Joe, take it easy. Val may have misstated the point, but the cover 2, 2 gap (what the Bears play) is a soft defense that is basically prevent lite, as Jpcz said. It's not just that it's been figured out, it's that it wasn't that good of a scheme to begin with. Not only is it a soft defense, it relies very heavily on excellent play from certain positions. If those players get hurt or decline because of old injuries and/or age, the defense doesn't work.

A much better system is one with basically interchangeable players. This is why New England wins every year regardless of who's on the field, with a couple of exceptions, Brueschi the only one on defense. Everyone still must perform competently, but you don't need great performances from several players in order to make the defense effective. In stark contrast, with the cover 2 once Mike Brown, for example, gets hurt, you cannot stop the run.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on March 8, 2009 7:56 PM.

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