Buccaneers: Opponents beware, the defensive line can be scary good
By James Hesdra
Don’t sleep on this Buccaneers defensive line. It has the potential to be scary good.
The Buccaneers went out over the off-season with one goal in mind, to add a plethora of weapons for franchise quarterback Jameis Winston to work with. All of the acquisitions on the offensive side of the ball made everyone forget how good this defensive front can be. Led by Gerald McCoy for the past eight seasons, he has finally gotten some help from the draft and free agency in recent years. Wiliam Gholston, Clinton McDonald, Robert Ayers Jr., Noah Spence, and Chris Baker make up the reinforcements that the Bucs have acquired over the last few seasons to help their big man down in the trenches.
The third pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, McCoy has lived up to the hype by becoming one of the best defensive tackles in all of football. He has now produced four straight years of seven or more sacks, an impressive feat for a player who doesn’t line up on the edge. McCoy’s huge 6’4″, 300 pound frame has made him into an exceptional run stopper as well. Even with all the success he has enjoyed in the league, McCoy still sees more room for improvement.
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Being one of the team leaders for the past eight seasons has led to these comments out of McCoy over the off-season (via Bucs Nation):
"“Going into my eight year I’ve never been to the playoffs. I’m not one to point fingers and I’m not one to make excuses. I’m one to go look at all my fourth quarters from the past two years. The great ones make the plays in the fourth quarter. The great ones make those big shots. The great ones make the plays when it’s necessary.”"
It’s pretty evident that McCoy is coming into this season with a hungry mindset of finally leading this team into the postseason. He wants to be a finisher late in games to close them out, making the crucial play when it matters most. That’s a good sign to all Tampa Bay fans that their team leader seems like he’s a man on a mission, to say the least. To help him out in their 3-4 scheme the Bucs signed another mammoth to line up alongside him on the line. His name is Chris Baker.
Playing for the Washington Redskins the last six seasons, Baker has established himself as a rock solid player. All 6’2″, 320 pounds of him is going to fit right in next to McCoy, another big body who can rush the quarterback from the inside. He has accumulated a combined 9.5 sacks over his last two breakout campaigns. Having two men of that size who can clog the middle and provide pressure is something that not a lot of teams around the league have.
Their third defensive tackle that will rotate in and out between them, Clinton McDonald, is another huge body who can give the other two rest. He hasn’t played as much in recent years but was a key rotation piece for the 2013 Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks. He had 5.5 sacks that year and also had five sacks the next year, his first with Tampa Bay. He can be relied upon when needed to give quality snaps behind McCoy and Baker.
On the edge, the Bucs have one of the more promising young pass rushers in Noah Spence. Not drafted until the second round last year because of his off the field distractions in college, Spence displayed some serous potential during his rookie season. He finished the year with 5.5 sacks while playing most of the year with a torn labrum in his shoulder. All the veterans on the team rave about Spence’s work ethic, a good trait that can push his sack total to double digits in the near future. Hopefully near future means this year.
Speaking of the veterans, Robert Ayers Jr. provides the most experience out of them all. One of the Bucs big free agent signings last off-season, the nine-year veteran had 6.5 sacks while being a great presence in the locker room to the younger players. Ayers clearly still has a lot left in the tank and being able to be in a rotation with the others will only help him stay more fresh. After one year, this looks like a good free agent signing with hopefully more to come.
The Bucs seem to think they have a hidden gem on the defensive line and he goes by the name of Jacquies Smith. During his first two years in the league, Smith had a 6.5 and 7 sack season before going down with a season ending injury in last years season opener Most people, including Bucs fans, forget how dynamic this guy was to open up his career. A return to form by him can turn the Bucs defensive front from a good unit to top three material with ease.
Last but not least, the Bucs decided to not let go of homegrown talent William Gholston by re-signing him to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. Gholston is not known as a great edge rusher judging by his ten career sacks over his four years in the league. However, he is one of the most fundamentally sound ends in the league and defends the run better than most. Gholston does display all the tools necessary to take that extra step and the Bucs believe in him to do so.
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Between all the size and athleticism these players have, the potential is there for this unit to be the teams strength. The better they are, the more it will help corners Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, and the young secondary in coverage. The Bucs defense was dominant to end the year and there’s no reason for them to display that potential from week 1 through 16. This is going to be a fun team to watch this year with the fans, coaches, and players thinking playoffs. With all the attention the offense is getting, don’t forget about this defensive line.