If Tampa Bay’s defense is going to be a dominant force in 2014, one capable of taking over and leading this team to victories, its front four needs to improve by leaps and bounds. Sunday’s performance will not suffice and head coach Lovie Smith said as much Monday afternoon.
“As I’ve said, it starts with the four-man pressure for us – we weren’t able to get enough,” Smith said. “So from there, it kind of tells you what type of day we had, especially early on.”
The unit generated fleeting amounts of pressure against a Carolina offensive line featuring three new starters from last year. Gerald McCoy registered the team’s only sack and Bucs defensive linemen brought down just three Panthers ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
On Tuesday morning Tampa Bay made its first regular-season alteration to the depth of the front four, bringing back defensive end Larry English and waiving defensive end Steven Means.
English is entering his sixth pro season after spending his first five with the San Diego Chargers, the team that selected him out of Northern Illinois with the 16th overall pick in 2009’s NFL Draft. As a Charger, English started nine of the 91 games he appeared, producing 62 tackles and 11 sacks.
Means, a fifth-round pick in 2013, assisted on one tackle Sunday against Carolina in limited duty and played in 10 games last year.
English spent about a month in Tampa Bay this preseason and appeared in the final three tune-up games before being released the day after the 24-10 loss to Washington. Speaking from the locker room at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, the 28-year-old veteran said he was hopeful to hear back from Tampa Bay.
“It’s great to be back,” English said. “I expressed that to the coaches and they knew I wanted to be here, so I’m happy to be back and happy to have the opportunity to help this team and this organization.”
In his brief stint with Tampa Bay, the 6-foot-2, 255-pound end turned in his best performance during the team’s lone win of the preseason at Buffalo by picking up two sacks coming off the edge.
“I feel like I worked hard and I feel like I gained ground, but I’m not knocking the coaches’ and the organizations’ decision,” English said. “It becomes a situation of need and wherever that need is, you might end up back. That’s kind of what they told me, but at the same time you can’t really depend on that either. I just had to take the stance of making sure I was ready individually and staying open to what the next opportunity was going to be.”
English will now join Scott Solomon in the rotation at defensive end to spell starters Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson. William Gholston spent another game on the inactive list Sunday with a shoulder injury and his availability is unknown. Da’Quan Bowers, seemingly a perpetual question mark, entered the league as an end, but has worked primarily behind McCoy at under-tackle in his short time actually spent on the practice field.
Smith expressed confidence in Johnson bouncing quickly but didn’t deny that a stronger push up front is necessary.
“We had other things that kind of hindered us from getting some of that pressure: Michael Johnson hurt his ankle about the third play of the game – rolled it,” Smith said. “So he wasn’t as effective as he needs to be, and he will be. And then from there, we just weren’t able to generate enough pressure, win the one-on-one battles, and those are things we need to get corrected.”
But considering Johnson’s lower-leg injury and Sunday’s disappointing debut in pewter and red, English and Solomon may be seeing increased playing time against St. Louis. Johnson wrapped up six Carolina ball carriers and Clayborn got to only one, and their combined pressure off the edges was virtually nonexistent.
“Everybody knows that anything can happen and you’re always ready,” said Solomon, who totaled three tackles and performed well in a backup role Sunday. “That’s just the life of the NFL, to be ready. We were all obviously very disappointed (with the results). We wanted to come out strong and beat Carolina, but at this point we just have to move forward, learn from it and keep going.”
Clayborn spoke briefly Tuesday and acknowledged the need for more pressure across the defensive line. “I guess you can take that away from the game. We did tackle well, but the rush wasn’t there. We have to do a better job of that.”
As for Bowers, the fourth-year lineman said that he may be – not will be – ready to suit up Sunday against St. Louis.
“We’ll see how tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday go, and if coach thinks I can help the team then he and I will sit down and talk about it,” said Bowers, who’s recovering from what’s listed as an abdominal injury. “Hopefully there are no setbacks, and if I can get some quality work in this week, we’ll see what happens.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
lol, and to think, the NEW Buc uniforms didn’t help! I guess we should change them again.
Well the Bucs don’t have to guaranty English’s salary now, which may have been why he was released, but I am glad he is back. Bowers just kills me, I think he could get hurt just opening a soda. When is enough, enough?
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