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Sept. 10, 2004: Tomlin says 'It's time to suit up and play for real'

FootballTampa Bay BuccaneersMike TomlinCollege of William and MaryJohn LynchLaveranues Coles

Denbigh High and William and Mary graduate Mike Tomlin, now Tampa Bay's secondary coach, is confident the Bucs will be fine without John Lynch.

Mike Tomlin has been watching videotape of the Redskins offense with a new purpose this week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare for Sunday's season opener at FedEx Field.

The old view: As a fan growing up in Newport News, watching Joe Gibbs lead the Redskins to three Super Bowl wins.

The new view: As the Bucs' fourth-year defensive backs coach, studying the video and conceiving a game plan to contain Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner.

"It's been a different perspective, but it's been fun for me watching some of those guys again. On the film before the play is run, I know what they're going to do," Tomlin, 32, said.

How far back are the Bucs going in an effort to get a read on Gibbs?

"Does Dallas in 1991 go far enough back for you?" Tomlin laughed during a phone interview after Wednesday's practice. "(The Redskins) have had a great deal of success. We don't expect them to change or vary much from what they did back then."

Tomlin, who graduated from Denbigh High School and William and Mary (his parents live in Suffolk), is in his fourth season on the Bucs' defensive staff.

After he completed his playing career in 1994 with the Tribe, Tomlin joined the coaching ranks, working at VMI, Memphis, Arkansas State and the University of Cincinnati before being hired by Tony Dungy in 2001.

The Bucs' defensive staff remained intact when Jon Gruden was hired.

In Tomlin's three seasons, Tampa Bay's passing defense has ranked fifth, first and third in the NFL, and the secondary has 23, 20 and 16 interceptions.

This year is different, though. Veteran strong safety John Lynch was released and plays for Denver.

"We did some good things in the preseason, but it's the preseason. Now it's time to suit up and play for real," Tomlin said. "I'm excited about what we have."

Former Virginia standout Ronde Barber and fellow cornerback Brian Kelly have picked up the leadership void created by Lynch's departure.

"Ronde and Brian are seasoned guys," Tomlin said.

"They provide great leadership and make sure the group is focused. Ronde was just selected captain by the defense and, personally, I don't feel we've lost any leadership in the meeting room. It's just different."

Barber, a former Virginia standout, is entering his ninth season and will team with Kelly at the cornerback positions. Kelly was limited to five games last year because of an arm injury.

Jermaine Phillips will start at Lynch's old spot against the Redskins.

Phillips started eight games last year at free safety.

"Jermaine does a lot of things well," Tomlin said. "He can play in open space, he is a strike-down hitter and good tackler and, like great safeties, plays the game well above the neck. He's respected in our locker room and now he has to go out and make believers out of the critics."

The ability of Tomlin's defensive backs to stop receivers in single coverage allows the Bucs to be aggressive up front, blitzing linebackers. The Bucs have averaged 43 sacks a season the last five years.

"They're still flying around and are very quick," Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels said. "They might be the quickest defense in the league. We have our work cut out for us, but we're looking forward to Sunday." *

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