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.
“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.
“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.”