Bucs DE Robert Ayers. - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Enough with all the warmup games and conjecture and what-ifs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53-man roster is taking shape and it’s officially time to prep for Week 1 against NFC South foe Atlanta next Sunday.
Of all the questions waiting for answers, wondering if a newly tweaked defensive line can live up to the hype and become a disruptive force is one that’s all too familiar to Bucs fans. Acquiring a top-flight edge rusher is Tampa Bay’s white whale.
Michael Johnson in 2014? Not quite. George Johnson in 2015? Zero sacks last year, injured reserve this year.
But in spite of recent free agency follies, the Bucs have managed to steadily increase their front four’s productivity. After hitting a rock-bottom sack total of 23 in 2011, that number bumped up to 27 in 2012, 35 in 2013, 36 in 2014, and 38 in 2015.
Last year’s total still left Tampa Bay in a three-way tie for 14th in the NFL, but it’s the most any Bucs defense has racked up since 2004. Though Gerald McCoy and a couple others have approached double-digits, they haven’t had an individual reach 10-plus since defensive end Simeon Rice recorded 14 in 2005.
Now the Bucs are pinning their hopes on veteran newcomer Robert Ayers becoming a difference maker opposite of Jacquies Smith. Expectations are lofty for second-round draft pick Noah Spence, as well.
While George Johnson’s season-ending hip injury affects the team’s depth, Tampa Bay will head to Atlanta with its core contributors up front healthy and ready to put new defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s system to work. The early returns are encouraging. In four preseason games Tampa Bay led the entire league with 16 sacks and 12 of those came from defensive linemen: 8.5 from ends and 3.5 from tackles. Despite playing an average of only 25.5 snaps per game, Jacquies Smith led all players with four.
After piling up eight sacks against the Cleveland Browns in the third preseason game, head coach Dirk Koetter said this year’s new additions – both players and coaches – are meshing well with existing pieces all over the defense.
“I said all along, we’ve got better players on defense than people think we do and we added some really good pieces – not only through free agency but through the draft,” the first-year head coach said. “We had three really good guys to build around – probably more than three – but three that everybody talks about, we added three really good free agents, and we had some good guys in the draft. Then we brought in Mike Smith who’s been a successful defensive coordinator and a really good staff around him: [defensive line coach] Jay Hayes, [linebackers coach] Mark Duffner, [secondary coach] Jon Hoke, [defensive backs coach] Brett Maxie.”
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is still the lynchpin of the line and the unit’s at its strongest with fellow interior starter Clinton McDonald next to him. That only happened six times last year before McDonald landed on injured reserve. McCoy recorded 4.5 of his 8.5 sacks during the first five games.
With everyone available among a line that also includes Akeem Spence, Will Gholston and Howard Jones, McCoy said he thinks the impressive exhibition numbers can roll right into the regular season.
“In Coach Smith’s defense, there’s plays out there for everybody if you just do your job,” McCoy said. “Us just playing together, we can make a couple plays.”
I know this is a day late, I’ve been busy. But does anyone know if the WR from Cleveland has been picked up by anyone yet?? I think his name is Gabriel? He was #18 I think. I thought he played really well against us and had a very good game 4 for Cleveland as well. He seemed very quick and explosive and we had a lot of trouble covering him. He is also a candidate for a return position?? I would love to add him to our practice squad for some extra WR depth. Since we lost Dye, I think we need one more explosive, fast WR on the team to help with the slot position and to help in the return game.
His name is Taylor Gabriel. He is on the Falcons’ 53 man roster.
Timely answer . Hope it’s right. There are a 100 Taylor Gabrie’ls out there with speed to burn. We used to have a guy like that but he didn’t like NFL contact. You also have to know how to read defenses and then catch the ball reliably.
I think J. smith can be a beast if he stays healthy. Very fast first move. Overall I’m very excited about seeing this defense hit the field next week. I just hope we stay healthy because the depth in that Skins game was pretty lame. Go Buc’s!
My only concern is depth at DT. The Buccaneers always seem to get hurt by injuries there and it costs them big time. I really DO like what I’m seeing from the DL so far though. But it’s a long season.
60 sacks this year. Still smoking my stuff. GO BUCS
Agree Garv lets hope this year is different and McCoy and all the backup DT’s stay healthy. If so I think it can be one of best D lines in sacks. Few injuries and could be one of worst. Depth is a real concern.
My take on the Alanta game is Atlanta will do a hurry up offense, run and throw deep with those tall WR’s. it’s a must to get a pass rush on Ryan. Go Bucs!
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