Tampa Bay’s years-long search for an impactful edge rush remains ongoing.
Player health hasn’t exactly cooperated this preseason, with projected starter Jacquies Smith and reserves T.J. Fatinikun and Larry English each missing spells at various times.
That’s still no excuse in Lovie Smith’s mind and he said a number of ends’ roles and futures in on this team depend on Thursday night’s preseason finale in Miami.
“As far as our defensive line play overall, we weren’t pleased with it the last game. It’s as simple as that,” the Bucs’ head coach said Monday. “[The] first third down, we need containment and Gerald McCoy probably has a sack. We need more from it. We ask an awful lot from it. We are good inside, but our defensive ends have to step up. It was good to get T.J. Fatinikun back in there the other night. We’re still looking. There is still hard competition. That’s why this game is very important for a lot of guys to show us something.”
The Bucs brought back George Johnson from Detroit in an April trade that also included a seventh-round draft selection Tampa Bay used to select recently cut fullback Joey Iosefa. The fourth-year pro recorded a career-high six sacks in 2014 as a backup but can still be viewed as an unproven asset.
Jacquies Smith’s game is what the Bucs coaching staff hopes to see continue its upward trajectory. The 25-year-old entered the league in 2012 as an unheralded, undrafted rookie out of Missouri and bounced around the league a little before enjoying his first taste of success last year in Tampa Bay. His 6.5 sacks ranked second on the team behind only All-Pro Gerald McCoy.
Both Smith and Johnson still need to show they’re bona fide NFL starters and top backups Fatinikun, English and Lawrence Sidbury Jr. come with question marks of their own.
The Bucs have also slid 2012 Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton to the outside with mixed results. The former Chicago Bear has totaled one tackle and a sack this preseason and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Tuesday that Melton, while best-suited on the interior, may split time between end and tackle.
“We know he has that capability and we’ll see as we go,” Frazier said. “Nothing is conclusive at this point. We just wanted to be able to take a look at him out there and see how he moved around. He’s done it before and he’s quite an athlete, as you know. But we’ll see; we’ll see how it goes as we get closer to September 13.”
Frazier went on to mention how the team views Smith and Fatinikun as potential impact players when they’re ready to go and that bringing new faces into the mix remains an option.
“Hopefully we’ll have some guys step up like Jacquies Smith being able to take another step, T.J. Fatinukun taking another step forward; that would help our defense,” Frazier said. “Adding Henry Melton inside should help our defense. If he has to play outside he can do that but he’s made the Pro Bowl as an inside player.
“So experience and then just adding a couple more guys should help us to improve.”