The Buccaneers players are off until they have to report back to Tampa on July 23 to begin what many are hoping and expecting to be a rebound season from the 4-12 disaster of 2013. Excitement abounds with Lovie Smith now in place as the team’s head coach and an influx of new players that the organization hopes fills holes in the roster have fans excited about the possibilities in 2014. While the mood surrounding the franchise is as positive as it has been in a number of years, there are still some areas of concern on the roster.
This week, PewterReport.com counts down the five biggest questions heading into training camp. While there are certainly more than five, these are the ones that we have the most questions about and will intently be watching once camp opens.
NO. 4: WHO STARTS AT LEFT DEFENSIVE END?Players In The Mix: Adrian Clayborn, Will Gholston, Steven Means, Da’Quan Bowers, Ronald Talley, Chaz SuttonTampa Bay promptly went out on the first day of free agency and targeted Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson to come in and be the starting right defensive end. The Bucs staff and front office obviously felt there was a need to upgrade the pass rush, particularly from the right side, which usually attacks the quarterback’s blind side.
The Buccaneers allowed right defensive end Michael Bennett to walk in free agency in 2013 and scrambled last season to try and find an adequate replacement. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (one sack), Gholston (two sacks) and Bowers (one sack) split reps along with Clayborn (5.5 sacks), who would flip to the left side in some situations with little production. Gholston’s two sacks came from the defensive tackle position, and four of Clayborn’s sacks came on the left side, so the left end spot only generated six sacks combined.
Gholston came on late in the season and played well, but is still a fairly raw talent who is also capable of playing on the inside as well as on the edge. At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, Gholston has the size and athleticism to be the biggest challenger to Clayborn, who is in a contract year.
Tampa Bay recently brought in Talley, who made the team after a tryout during the team’s final mini-camp but hasn’t been overly productive in his brief NFL career, notching just one sack in this three NFL seasons.
Means was a 2013 fifth-round draft pick, but saw little active in 2013 and had very little impact. He has spent most of his time backing up Johnson on the right side, but could get a few looks on the left side to challenge for the starting job.
Chaz Sutton opened a few eyes in mini-camps and OTAs, but was an undrafted free agent that is considered more of a developmental player.
PewterReport.com’s Early Bet For Starter: ClaybornClayborn easily has the most experience and production off all the players competing for the starting job. In his three NFL seasons, Clayborn has recorded 12.5 sacks, but what stands out with the former Iowa product is his high motor and his stout run defense. Clayborn finished second on the team behind linebacker Lavonte David with a career-high 19.5 tackles for loss in 2013. The biggest issue for Clayborn will be lining up exclusively on the left side, something he has never done in his career, partly because of a his Erb’s Palsy, which is a condition that causes a limitation of strength in his right arm. However, over the offseason workouts, Clayborn was an eye-opener, showing great speed, hustle and determination. We expect to see Clayborn win the job in training camp and share reps with Gholston, who will push him for playing time.
TRAINING CAMP QUESTIONS SERIES SCHEDULETraining Camp Question No. 5 – Nickel Cornerbacks (Monday)Training Camp Question No. 4 – Left Defensive End (Tuesday)Training Camp Question No. 3 – Guards (Wednesday) Training Camp Question No. 2 – Running Backs (Thursday)Training Camp Question No. 1 – Third Wide Receiver (Friday)
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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