The Buccaneers' Offense Works Because of This Man (and Tom Brady)

The Buccaneers’ Offense Works Due to This Man (and Tom Brady)

When Tom Brady fires a game-winning landing move, it might probably appear as fated an consequence as there may be in soccer.

However even Brady can’t orchestrate a whole offense by himself in opposition to a technology of N.F.L. defenses that grew up dissecting his tendencies. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rank second within the league in scoring, largely as a result of Byron Leftwich, their offensive coordinator, adapts the offense to the playmakers who revolve round Brady, their star quarterback.

This season, with Covid-19, accidents and different uncommon circumstances threatening Tampa Bay’s season, Leftwich has altered his play calls to get probably the most out of a Frankenstein’s roster.

When the Bucs wanted a last-minute drive to beat the Jets in early January, in a recreation that receiver Antonio Brown unexpectedly and dramatically left within the third quarter, Leftwich dialed up routes for a alternative, Cyril Grayson, a speedy current promotion from the follow squad. Grayson caught three brief passes on the ultimate drive, and when the Jets’ protection sat on fast throws within the closing moments, Leftwich known as in a sideline shot that went 33 yards for the rating — simply Grayson’s tenth catch of the season.

In a league the place groups covet plug-and-play diagrams, Leftwich prefers bespoke schemes designed to wrong-foot the protection and choices that use the breadth of Brady’s expertise. Even when which means Brady shakes him off every so often, as occurred within the season opener, in opposition to the Dallas Cowboys, when on the game-winning drive Brady known as a 24-yard shot to receiver Chris Godwin.

“He’s been in each state of affairs,” Leftwich mentioned in a telephone interview final month. “If there’s a chance the place he sees one thing I can’t as a result of he’s on the sphere, hey man, let’s get to it.”

The strategy was a boon for final season’s Buccaneers, whose lineup melded the Professional Bowl receivers Godwin and Mike Evans with free brokers Brady had lobbied for, together with tight finish Rob Gronkowski and the since-released Brown, on the best way to a championship.

This season, Leftwich’s adaptability has been much more important, because the staff has returned to being a top-three scoring offense regardless of Godwin’s season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in Week 14 and Brown’s shock midgame exit. Evans and operating again Leonard Fournette have additionally missed video games, although each are anticipated to play within the postseason.

“It’s not simply, ‘OK, you’re going to run my stuff and we’ll do it my means,’” Leftwich mentioned. “We’re going to do what we have to do for our group, as a bunch, to play nicely.”

Leftwich, a nine-year N.F.L. quarterback, is, at 41, youthful than Brady, 44. He’s scheduled to interview for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head teaching job, a task that final summer time went to an untested and since-fired school coach. For now, his tailoring of the offense — and his understanding of its centerpiece — provides the Buccaneers an opportunity to repeat as champions regardless of the attrition.

Leftwich says {that a} play is simply nearly as good because the consolation of the quarterback operating it, and he usually calls Brady late within the evenings to vet designs and changes

“While you work collectively for a protracted time period, you start to see the sport very related,” Brady mentioned earlier than the Tremendous Bowl win. “When he’s watching movie, he thinks, ‘Oh, that is what Tom would love,’ and vice versa.”

Leftwich mentioned: “You possibly can’t name performs for a man until you recognize a man. You possibly can’t.”

Leftwich is probably most remembered for one in every of school soccer’s enduring shows of mettle. Within the first quarter of a November 2002 recreation, throughout Leftwich’s final season at Marshall College, an Akron linebacker charged into his planted left leg, breaking his tibia. He went to a hospital to have the leg set and returned to steer a pair of scoring drives, throughout which his offensive linemen hoisted him between performs and carried him to the huddle.

Enjoying the following recreation — in opposition to Ben Roethlisberger and Miami of Ohio — was out of the query, so he spent the week poring over movie and making a recreation plan along with his backup, Stan Hill. Marshall received the shootout, 36-34.

As Leftwich ready for the N.F.L. draft, scouts lauded his arm energy and toughness. However he mentioned his true expertise was intuiting his opponents’ patterns and discovering performs that scrambled them.

After the Jaguars drafted him with the seventh general decide in 2003, an accumulation of accidents over time turned him from a would-be franchise quarterback to an esteemed backup. As he bounced from roster to roster — Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay — Leftwich mentored youthful quarterbacks, talked coverages along with his coaches and picked up each scrap of soccer intel he may, rotating between tables within the staff cafeteria so he may sit with receivers at some point and defensive linemen the following.

“If I had one thing he disagreed with, we had to return and discover it on movie,” mentioned Ken Anderson, Leftwich’s place coach in Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, “as a result of he wished to know all the pieces.” He recalled that Leftwich even ready his personal notes for his or her midweek conferences.

Data is proprietary within the N.F.L. It may well assist a backup unseat a starter, however Leftwich didn’t care about hiding what he knew. When he was benched in favor of youthful prospects just a few video games into his 2009 season with the Buccaneers, he made area in his day by day routine for tutoring his replacements within the nuances of presnap reads.

“He would take them by all of the checks on the line,” mentioned Tim Holt, an offensive assistant on that Buccaneers staff. “They’d have gear guys line up trash cans after follow, and he’d say: ‘All proper, we’re checking to this. Which trash can do it’s important to hit?’ He was so good with the visible a part of the sport, and people guys wanted that.”

In 2016, 4 years after Leftwich retired as a participant, Bruce Arians, then the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, employed him to mentor the staff’s younger quarterbacks as a part of a fellowship the coach had began to offer nonwhite former gamers a begin in teaching. Leftwich rose shortly, first as quarterbacks coach, then as interim offensive coordinator.

When the Buccaneers employed Arians as head coach in 2019, he snatched up his protégé and gave him the offense, figuring out it was in good arms.

“He hasn’t been to one in every of my conferences in three years,” Leftwich mentioned.

Black folks stay underrepresented within the N.F.L. teaching ranks. Whereas 69 % of gamers are folks of shade, solely 35 % of coaches are. The league has created new initiatives to attempt to bridge the hole, teaming with the Fritz Pollard Alliance to floor head teaching candidates of shade and increasing its Rooney Rule to require, amongst different issues, an in-person interview with a minority candidate for any head coach or normal supervisor opening.

However some candidates aren’t nicely hidden. Final season’s Tremendous Bowl featured two groups that have been led by offensive coordinators who’re Black — Leftwich and Kansas Metropolis’s Eric Bieniemy — and neither was employed within the final low season to fill a head teaching emptiness. Leftwich appears poised to make the leap, having additionally drawn curiosity from the Chicago Bears after the staff fired Matt Nagy this week.

For now, Leftwich has extra urgent issues: getting again to the title recreation with a altering mixture of stars and fill-ins. “You’ll should ask me that after we get to the low season,” he mentioned of the top coach speak. “I’ve received an excellent group right here, and that’s my job. My job is to know who my gamers are.”

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