Intrigue On The Defensive FrontJuly 11th, 2013
This morning marks exactly two weeks from the Bucs’ first practice of 2013 training camp. That’s right, on July 25, the Bucs will sweat like banshees in the brutal Florida morning sun as football season, for all intents and purposes, begins anew.
Joe suspects many fans will focus on the defensive line. Not only are there numerous questions to be answered this year on the defensive front, intrepid Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, the pride of Northwestern, suggests there is virtually no end to the amount of intrigue that will be played out by Bucs defensive linemen this summer.
Start at right end. Adrian Clayborn had a very strong rookie season in 2011, leading the team with 7.5 sacks, and was off to a good start last year before a knee injury took him out after just three games. Many, myself included, are expecting a breakout year from Clayborn in 2013; will we see evidence of that in training camp? Next to him is the biggest question mark on the line: Who will start at nose tackle with Roy Miller now in Jacksonville? The Bucs’ drafted Illinois’ Akeem Spence in the fourth round with the thought that he might be able to step right in, but again we can’t take a rookie’s production for granted until we see it. And will a veteran like Gary Gibson or Derek Landri keep Spence from getting that starting job, anyway?
Next to Spence is perhaps the surest thing on the line, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He was a Pro Bowler last year and one of the league’s rising stars, and he has apparently dedicated himself to getting into even better physical shape this year. I don’t think we have any worries here, but there is still the question of whether McCoy can continue his ascension and emerge as one of the very best performers in the league. Finally, at right end, we presumably have Da’Quan Bowers stepping into the starting lineup on opening day for the first time in his three seasons. He made a remarkable recovery from his offseason Achilles heel injury last year to even make a second-half impact last year – and a promising half-season it was – but he must now prove he can handle a starter’s share of snaps. Bowers might be the biggest wild card on that line, capable of giving the Bucs a ton of production from the left side, so I think he’ll be very interesting to watch in July and August.
Actually, I shouldn’t have said “finally” because the intrigue doesn’t end with the presumptive starters. The Bucs hope a vastly improved secondary will help the pass rush by giving the big men that extra second they need. Still, the team didn’t stop there in trying to amp up that pressure on the quarterback, something that has not met expectations for several seasons now. The draft brought two more potential helpers up front in fifth-rounder William Gholston and sixth-rounder Steven Means. How much can they help, and how soon?
Here is the thing: Bowers, Joe suspects, on passing downs, will be moved to the inside as Spence is not known as a pass rusher. The Bucs are so desperate to put heat on the quarterback, Joe’s pretty sure they will forego bulk for speed on the inside on obvious passing situations. Plus Bowers did that last season at times.
So what then happens at left defensive end position? It sure seems like rookies Means and Gholston will be given every possible opportunity to battle for a shot to be designated pass rusher. After all, that’s why those two were drafted.
Now if Gholston really dominates in camp, it’s very possible the Bucs would leave Bowers at left end and and put Gholston in the middle to rush the passer. Gholston played inside at Michigan State with varying degrees of success. With Gholston’s massive wingspan, it sure would be cool for a change to see a Bucs player bat down passes rather than the other way around.