With Cam Newton coming to town, Tampa Bay's overhauled defense is bracing for a stern test in its debut under coach Greg Schiano.
Newton's Carolina Panthers routed the Buccaneers twice a year ago, with the versatile young quarterback throwing for four touchdowns and running for four more in the meetings between the NFC South rivals.
"Somebody asked how do you shut him down. I don't think you do. I think you just try to limit him," Schiano said Wednesday, when the Bucs resumed preparation for Sunday's season opener at Raymond James Stadium.
"There's a lot of different things he does for that offense, so it's going to have to be an all-encompassing effort," the former Rutgers coach said. "He's certainly one of the elite athletes in the league, so we need to make sure we have different things to account for him."
Schiano inherited a defense that allowed a NFL-high and franchise-record 494 points while also ranking 30th among 32 teams in total yards allowed and dead last in rushing defense and sacks last season.
Newton threw a NFL rookie-record 4,051 yards in 2011. He also accounted for 35 touchdowns, 21 passing and a league quarterback record 14 rushing.
Bucs third-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy missed the final eight weeks of last season with a torn right biceps, including both games against Carolina.
The Panthers won 38-19 on the road and 46-10 at home.
"That guy's a different breed of player, the things he can do," said McCoy, who's fully recovered from surgery and will start Sunday. "You could see last year that his decision making got better as the year went on. And that's not just with his passes, but when he has to decide if he's going to keep it or hand it off. He's just a different breed, an escape artist. He can do it all."
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, who's added some wrinkles to the scheme Schiano brought to his new job from Rutgers, said one of the keys this week will be limiting the opportunities that Newton has to run.
That can be difficult because in addition to scrambling out of the pocket when the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner is unable to find an open receiver, the Panthers have a number of designed runs for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback.
"Yesterday, I guess just to get us depressed we watched all of his scrambles from a year ago. He's really hard to tackle in the open field. Even if you have guys kind of assigned to him or have leverage on him, he has the ability to make a guy miss just like a tailback does," Sheridan said. "It's whole another world than you're probably going to be playing in the other 14 weeks of the season."
"People are so afraid of him running the ball, but he uses his legs to get open so he can pass it," the third-year pro said. "He's not a run-first guy. Most people think he is, but you don't just throw for 4,000 yards for no reason. He likes to pass the ball. And as big as he is, he still likes to have open lanes so that he can pass."
Safety Ronde Barber noted that running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have combined to give the Bucs' defense fits for years, and that Newton just makes the Panthers that much more explosive.
"I can't remember what the stats were last year, but we've got to stop all facets of their running attack. They've got two great backs, they've got the most dynamic running quarterback in the league right now. ... Take care of that and the rest will take care of itself," Barber said.
The five-time Pro Bowl selection, who's making the transition from cornerback to safety in his 16th season, was asked if he has faced other quarterback with the type of skill set that Newton possesses.
"There's not many. Obviously there's been some guys. Michael Vick back in the day was almost equally impossible to deal with," Barber said.
But Newton "brings a whole another element just with his size and speed. His attributes ... are off the charts. It showed in college, it showed last year as a rookie, and I only expect him to be better this year."
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