You were disappointed with the play of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Will Gholston last year.

He was disgusted.

You were surprised that Gholston didn’t record a sack last year.

He was shocked.

You suggested that the Bucs might cut Gholston after such a down year coming off signing a lucrative contract extension last offseason.

He was surprised they didn’t.

Bucs DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Oh, without a doubt,” Gholston said, suggesting that he thought he might be released after a bad 2017 season. “I had a [expletive] year, without a doubt. It was an awful year. So the pressure was on me from right then. I knew I had to get in shape. I sat down and talked about some professionals about myself – and not just football people – complete health-wise about what I did do and what I didn’t do. It was a trial. I appreciated my family for being there for me.”

Gholston didn’t mince words when discussing just had bad his 2017 season was. After averaging 52 tackles and nearly three sacks per season over the last three years, Gholston recorded just 36 tackles and zero sacks.

“It was a big surprise,” Gholston said. “I could say a whole bunch of stuff, but the end result is that this is not a ‘stop the run’ league. It’s a ‘get to the quarterback’ league, and honestly, I feel like I’m actually lucky to still be playing. I think I was the only starting defensive end in the league to not have a sack at all – to not register a single sack. So, yeah – that’s a lot of motivation I needed to drop my weight and be the player they asked me to be.”

In 2015, Gholston led all defensive linemen in tackles with 67, three sacks and a forced fumble. In 2016, Gholston had 49 tackles and matched his career-high of three sacks, while forcing a fumble and recovering one as he missed the final two games of the year due to an elbow injury, which didn’t help Tampa Bay’s chances of making the playoffs in 2017.

Last year the emphasis was getting bigger up front. Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald each gained about 10 pounds. The Bucs signed 320-pound defensive tackle Chris Baker, re-signed 330-pound defensive tackle Sealver Siliga and drafted 330-pound defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.

Gholston, who was listed on the roster at 281 pounds, added too much weight. He lost some quickness and he lost some explosiveness off the snap as a result, which hurt his game.

“I think I’ve been up over 300-plus, especially last year,” Gholston said. “I was out of shape. It was bad weight. Looking at my film with Buck and everybody else – I have to be more critical of my health so I can play good. That’s the thing I felt like I was missing the most.”

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said Gholston’s weight loss has been noticeable.

“He’s lost weight,” Koetter said. “He’s down somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds from last year. We thought he got too heavy last year, he agreed and he did a really good job of slimming it down. He looks good out there.”

Now Gholston looks lean and muscular again, as he was in 2015 when he had a breakout season.

“I’m in the 270s bordering 280 right now,” Gholston said. “It’s coming along with diet and conditioning.”

That’s the Gholston that general manager Jason Licht and the Bucs thought they were getting when the 26-year old defensive end was signed to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million, including $13.5 million in guaranteed money.

“I had to be honest with myself,” Gholston said. “Last year was a crap year for sure. It was the worst year of football I’ve ever played from little league on up. I didn’t register a sack. I didn’t play up to my standards. I didn’t play up to the team’s standards. Looking at my film is disgusting.

Bucs DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

“I can’t really comment on it because it happened in the past, but I know I’ve dedicated to myself – not even to the team – that I’m never going to play like that again. I can’t necessarily pinpoint a reason and say, ‘Oh, this is the reason why.’ I gave the highest effort I could, but it wasn’t nearly good enough. I didn’t play up to my standards. I didn’t reach my standard or goals.”

Cutting Gholston after last year would have resulted in a $6.5 million cap hit for the team, so that wasn’t an option. Instead, Licht brought in to competition in the form of left defensive end Vinny Curry from the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, in addition to re-signing defensive end Will Clarke and adding free agent Mitch Unrein, who can play nose tackle and strongside defensive end.

Gholston vows to earn the $6.5 million he’s slated to make this season and looks like he’s focused and in tremendous shape.

“I’ve just got to earn a job,” Gholston said. “I don’t think I felt more pressure than what I felt the last snap of the last game of the season. Shoot, I knew I might not be back with the Buccaneers this season. That’s how bad I felt.”

Like most of the Tampa Bay defensive linemen that PewterReport.com has spoken to this season, new Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Buckner has been welcomed with open arms by Gholston, who appreciates his tough, no-nonsense approach, which is in stark contrast to that of former defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

“It’s a big difference,” Gholston said. “The one thing I take from him every day and he always says is to be selfish in your technique. I really can respect that. He keeps it straightforward. There is no grey area and he let’s you know exactly what he wants and how to do it. There is no room for error or question, and that’s what I like.”

Gholston is healthy, in shape, and highly motivated to not only make the Bucs’ 53-man roster, but to atone for his bad play last year with a big rebound season as Tampa Bay looks to bounce back from a disappointing 5-11 campaign and make a push for the playoffs.

“My elbow is good, and my neck is good,” Gholston said. “I’m 100 percent healthy now. I’m in good shape with a good weight. I don’t feel like there is any more pressure that could be put on me than I put on myself before I got to OTAs. I’m ready to go.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 protected]

7 COMMENTS

  1. Glad to hear that Gholston figured out what went wrong and addressed it. If he can return to form this season, he makes that new defensive line all the better for it. I’d love to see him record a double-digit TFL number in 2018 with 6-7 sacks.

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    • Everyone would be thrilled with that production EricNV

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  2. He’ll have 4 sacks this year and one forced fumble with 48 tackles

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  3. Well Gholston is no different then Martin, Jackson, Baker, or some of these other players who sign a contract then loaf the next year. Licht might have to rethink how they pay these guys in order to enhance motivation. Maybe they have to pass a weigh-in and some type of exercise test before they get all their bonus money in their first year ?

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    • agree, these super high $$$ contracts should be incentive laden. I understand why they didn’t cut him (dead money cap hit) but i think his performance after the contract says a bunch about his true motivations/passions/character or lack thereof. Just from a teammate standpoint, he let them down.

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  4. Always liked gholston…maybe cuz I’m an OSU guy and his cousin was a hammer for us.

    This guy is basically Greg spires 2.0. Coach him up and work on his short area quickness/hands – he’s got more than enough size and strength to play as our strong side DE.

    Last year he had some significant injuries…the neck was scary. But He’s our best run defender on the dline…OT’s just can’t move him off the ball. Gonna need better this year though, and he seems motivated. Let’s see it bruh

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  5. Sounds to me that coaching had a hand in his gaining weight last year because it likely is no coincidence that all the DTs played heavier last year. Now that he has trimmed down to his optimum weight I am expecting a good year out of him. We sure can use him this year to help in the rotation.

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