Welcome to the next edition of our Training Camp Previews, where we go position by position to give you a look at how we feel each group of Bucs will look heading into the regular season. We continue the series with a look at the Buccaneers’ defensive line.
The plan is to take a look at each player and position, and see what they’ve done in the past, and what sort of role we can expect from them in 2013. We’ll use our traditional “Good, Bad, Likely” format to give all possible outcomes for each position, and today we take a look at the men in the trenches on defense.
If the Buccaneer offense “lives and dies” by the play of Josh Freeman, then it’s fair to say that the 2013 Buccaneer defense will live and die by the play of their defensive ends. No other position on defense has such a wide range of potential outcomes. Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers could combine to both have breakout seasons, or they could continue to be injury concerns and disappointments considering their draft position. It’s safe to say that health will be the primary concern at the top of the depth chart for the Buccaneers.
But past the two young defensive ends, the Buccaneers have some promising role players who will need to deliver to keep the starters fresh and healthy. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Aaron Morgan both return, having played key snaps last year on an injury ravaged line. The former presents a stable option who has a high motor, but lacks in any elite skills. The latter is playing a bit out of position in a 4-3, as Morgan is better suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, but still has some explosive ability and could be a factor as a situational pass rusher.
Then there are rookies Steven Means and William Gholston, who will both fight for playing time with their unique attributes. Gholston is a physical presence who has the raw potential to be a fantastic player, but he doesn’t seem to put his physical talent on display snap after snap. He’ll need to show consistent effort and some explosiveness, but he has an NFL-ready body and could be a key depth option. Means is a bit of a tweener who has a ton of athletic ability and the kind of attitude and work ethic that the Buccaneers’ front office loves.
Finally, there’s the remaining defensive ends who face an uphill battle making the roster, as Pep Levingston, Ernest Owusu, and Markus White all have six players ahead of them who are likely to already be fighting for five roster spots. They’ll have to truly standout to make the roster, or even catch on with the practice squad.
The Good: Both Clayborn and Bowers are healthy heading into the regular season, with Te’o-Nesheim, Morgan, and Means ready to back them up. Health is really the key, as the depth is only so thin until one of these players proves to be better than expected.
The Bad: The worst case scenario is an injury or setback from one of the top two guys. Clayborn and Bowers must be healthy entering 2013. Anything less than 100% health will be a huge detriment to the Buccaneers’ defensive plans.
The Likely: There have been no health issues so far, but injuries can happen at any time. The likely scenario is someone gets hurt during the preseason, let’s just hope it’s not one of the defensive ends.
In the middle, the Buccaneers have a very similar situation. The top defensive tackle for the team, Gerald McCoy, must remain healthy heading into the 2013 season. He proved last year that he can be a chaos-creator in the middle of the Buc defense, but he has to play 16 games again for his value to be maximized. He’ll be backed up by Derek Landri, who has a bit of interesting potential on his own, and may carve out a role in pass rushing situations as well.
At nose tackle, Akeem Spence seems to be the favorite, as the weight room monster has an opportunity to translate his fantastic strength and size to the middle of a strong run defense. But he’ll be challenged by veteran Gary Gibson, who is not going to “wow” anyone with his skills, but is a reliable player the coaches seem to trust.
Matthew Masifilo and Andre Neblett round out the current roster of defensive tackles, and they both face a tough road to being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer on opening day. Gibson and Landri don’t seem particularly vulnerable to losing their roster spots, and there likely isn’t room for a fifth defensive tackle on the roster.
The Good: McCoy is healthy to start the season, and Spence claims the nose tackle role as his own before the Jets game week one. The two backups are able to rotate in to keep the starters fresh, and the roster is all set.
The Bad: Other than an injury, the worst thing that could happen would be Spence failing to impress, and the Buccaneers entering the season with uncertainty next to Gerald McCoy.
The Likely: I believe Spence is prepared to earn the starting job, which sets the Buccaneers up nicely with a young duo of starters with veteran backups ready to help out.