Preseason Focus: Defensive Ends

Clayborn has had an outstanding training camp
Clayborn has had an outstanding training camp /
Clayborn has had an outstanding training camp
Clayborn has had an outstanding training camp /

Football is finally here. There has been tons of excitement at One Buc Place over who would start in preseason, and who has the edge in position battles. With the arrival of the latest draft picks, and the return of most of our free agents, the competition is intense. Recently, the Buccaneers released their latest depth chart. I agree with Patrik Nohe that it’s too early to get excited. However, it’s hard to stay calm when you hear how well the defensive line is molding into a unit, and how the offense looks better than ever. This isn’t the Buccaneers of last season. This is the new Buccaneers who have addressed their weaknesses and improved their strengths.

We all can agree that their silence in the free agent market was really discouraging, but Coach Morris and GM Mark Dominik have made their plans for this team clear, which is building from the draft.

Rushing the passer has been a lingering issue for the Bucs the past few seasons. Based on training camp, it looks like there is much to look forward to. Adrian Clayborn has been working against one of the best offensive lineman in the league, Donald Penn. Penn has spoken highly of the rookie from Iowa, and predicts Clayborn to be a quarterback’s nightmare. Clayborn has shown steady growth in training camp, and has been his own hardest critic when failing to get past Penn. Clayborn has been granted the starting role at defensive end for the first preseason game against the Chiefs. It will be exciting to see what he can do.

Although Clayborn is listed to start, the starting position is far from guaranteed. The Bucs resigned Tim Crowder, who was among the best defensive lineman they had last season. Crowder is an versatile defensive end. He plays well against the run, and can still penetrate the line and get to the passer. The competition between Clayborn and Crowder will be intense. I predict Clayborn to have an edge because of his draft status, and I have faith that he will have an amazing rookie season. Crowder will most likely be used in a rotation, but may face the lesser amount of snaps.

Bowers performing very well, but Bucs still cautious
Bowers performing very well, but Bucs still cautious /

On the other side of the defensive line, 2nd round pick, DaQuan Bowers has looked like he never had knee surgery. According to the Pewter Report, Bowers has been praised by Defensive Line Coach, Keith Millard, more than most other players. After leading the nation in sacks and tackles for a loss, Bowers expected to be a highly pursued player in the draft. Falling to the 2nd round has provided him rage and the drive to succeed, and he has a point to prove. Bowers has shown that he can make an impact if chosen to start. The latest depth chart, however, reveals that defensive end, Michael Bennett, will get to start against the Chiefs. I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions on who will start, but it looks like Michael Bennett may have the edge for playing more downs this season.

The Buccaneers seem to be dedicated to their plan of taking their time with Bowers. He may look like he’s in great shape, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious with their 2nd round pick. Now, I’m not suggesting that Michael Bennett will start only because of Bowers recovery. Bennett started in place of Stylez White in the last two games of last season, and really left an impression on the coaching staff after contributing to a win in both games. During training camp, he has dominated in most of the exercises and drills. Bowers will be fighting an uphill battle to start ahead of Bennett, but both will probably be used in a rotation that will feature Bennett receiving the majority of plays. However, don’t be surprised if you see more and more of Bowers as the season progresses.

Several other defensive ends will be competing for a back up position. Kyle Moore has returned to Tampa in the best shape of his life. It seems he is aware that if he doesn’t prove himself better than the competition, his stay in Tampa could end sooner than expected. In camp, he’s displayed improvement in his outside rushes and speed rushes. He looks much better than he did in 2010, and seems to have his swagger back. Alex Magee also made an impression at the end of last season, and has arrived to camp in much better shape. Moore has a lot on his plate, and needs to step it up. Defensive ends George Johnson and Brandon Gilbeaux are also in the mix to be a back up. Both have shown some flashes in camp, but could be on their way out as well.

Clarity will start to reveal itself in two days when the Bucs play the Chiefs. Although it’s a preseason game, this is where rookies give it their all. This is where points are proven and reputations are born. Don’t miss out!