This offseason has been a highly debated and often criticized offseason for Tampa Bay fans. Legions of passionate followers of the Buccaneers have expressed concern over Tampa’s offseason moves, or lack thereof when discussing the cornerback position. But the corner spot has not been the only position to experience criticism from fans, as the questionable moves along the defensive line have caused concern among many.
Fans are still wonder why Tampa let Michael Bennett leave, or why Roy Miller moved up state to Jacksonville. In this article, I’ll try and shed a little light on the rationale behind these moves and hopefully bring a little peace to Bucs fans by laying out what I see as Tampa’s plans for 2013.
Why is Michael Bennett in Seattle?
Bennett’s fate as a Buccaneer was sealed in April, 2011 when Tampa drafted both Adrian Clayborn and De’Quan Bowers. Clayborn went on to have a stellar rookie year, leading the team in sacks with 7.5 and leading all Buccaneers Defensive Lineman with 42 total tackles. Clayborn showed that not only can he be a force in the league, but that he was the future for Tampa at the right end position.
Bowers was at one point considered for the #1 overall pick that year before news of his knee injury surfaced and his draft stock plummeted. He fell all the way to Tampa in the second round, and the Bucs quickly swooped him up. Bowers has yet to see a full season, but has flashed elite potential when on the field. Despite only playing in 8 games in 2012 (none of which he started) he still tallied 3 sacks, 13 tackles, 5 tackle for loses, 7 QB hits and a pass defended. Not All-Pro statistics, but it showed that given the opportunity he can be a force for this defense.
Ultimately Bennett was told he would only be back in Tampa for backup money to play behind Bowers. After all, Bowers was an investment made by this front office, where as Bennett was a free agent signing that just happened to work out. Having a 2nd round player like Bowers on your roster in his 3rd year sitting behind an undrafted free agent doesn’t look good if you are the GM. Instead, the front office has decided to rely on Bowers in hope that he can live up to his pre-injury potential.
With Bowers and Clayborn, Tampa has a good young pair of defensive ends. The only question now is who will back them up. Currently Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, George Selvie and Aaron Morgan are poised to battle it out for the back up roles, so the Buccaneers will continue to look for depth.
What is Roy Miller doing in Jacksonville?
Roy Miller has been a polarizing player for Bucs fans since being drafted in 2009. On the one hand, he has played well and worked hard to remain with this team and even earn the starting job at Nose Tackle on two separate occasions. On the other, he has never provided much pass rush and rarely ever made any splash plays.
In his 4 years with Tampa, he only tallied 3 sacks, with neither coming the past two seasons. Instead of bringing Miller back, Tampa elected to let him walk and sign former Eagles DT Derek Landri. Landri has had more success than Miller in pass rushing situations, grabbing 8 total sacks in his career, but has also played two more seasons than Miller. Landri had his best year in 2010 with the Panthers, sacking opposing QBs 3 times as well as adding 43 tackles and a pass defense. In Philly, he couldn’t replicate the success and was allowed to leave in Free Agency when Philly began to switch to a 3-4 defense, which he is unsuited for.
Landri comes to the Buccaneers to replace Miller and generate pass rush from the tilt nose position. But that isn’t the problem here. The problem is that Miller was the best run defender on the defensive line last year, and Landri is a bit small to replicate that success in run defense. So how does Tampa plan to replicate the run stopping success without Miller? As of now our best guess is on the roster in Gary Gibson.
Gibson was Miller’s relief last year and played fairly well. Notably, he started the last game of the season against Atlanta in which Tampa allowed only 65 yards on the ground. Gibson’s success in relief of Miller last season is sure to have been a big reason why Tampa was comfortable letting the big man walk. Come the regular season, expect Gibson and Landri to split time at the nose tackle position.
Despite letting two starters leave in Free Agency, Tampa still believes they have a strong defensive front. While there is still the need for depth along the line, fans should not hit the panic button on this defense just yet. The draft will provide a chance for the Buccaneers to add depth and potential to the defensive front, and the development of young players could be better than adding a high priced free agent.