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OVERVIEW The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are sitting in pretty good shape at the defensive end position thanks to general manager Bruce Allen’s ability to re-sign DE Greg Spires to a five-year, $17.1 million contract despite facing some serious salary cap challenges this offseason.
The 6-foot-1, 265-pound Spires, who turns 31 in August, led all Tampa Bay defensive linemen in tackles (86) and notched a career-high eight sacks while forcing three fumbles and anchoring the left side of the Bucs’ defensive line.
The re-signing of Spires was important since he was coming off of a great year in which he provided a potent pass rush and was quite effective against the run. Although he improved his play tremendously from his rookie season to last season, third-year DL Dewayne White simply wasn’t ready to fill that big of a void had Spires, who is also referred to as “The Crane,” left the Bucs via free agency.
White, the team’s 2003 third-round draft pick out of Louisville, seemed to find a nitch at the under tackle spot last season, recording six sacks. He played there in rotation after Anthony McFarland and Ellis Wyms were lost for the season due to injuries.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli will likely work White (6-2, 273) into the rotation at both UT and DE next season.
Although he notched a team-leading 12 sacks, the Bucs want to get more consistent play from DE Simeon Rice, who has recorded 53.5 sacks in four seasons with the team.
Rice, 31, recorded just one sack in the first five games of the 2005 regular season, and he failed to notch a sack in the Bucs’ final two regular season contests.
Not only does Rice (6-5, 268) need to play better against the run and find a way to get after the quarterback with much more frequency, he needs to recapture his knack for causing turnovers. After forcing six fumbles in two consecutive seasons (2002-2003), Rice forced just one fumble last season.
Free agent defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu doesn’t appear to be receiving much interest from Tampa Bay, who signed him to a one-year deal midway through the 2004 season. He recorded 3.5 sacks while playing under tackle and eventually moving back to the outside to play end. He turns 35 in October.
The Bucs are hoping second-year DE Josh Savage (6-4, 276) can take his game to another level in 2005 after surprising everyone by securing a 53-man roster spot as an undrafted free agent. Savage saw limited playing time in ’05, recording just two tackles.
The Bucs will also bring Bryant McNeal (6-4, 248) to training camp.
BOTTOM LINE Tampa Bay doesn’t appear to have a pressing need to draft a defensive end, but the Bucs could have one if they’re looking ahead to 2006, which is when Rice, whose cap value this year is $10.7 million, will turn 32. Keeping Rice beyond the 2005 season is a possibility, however, since his cap value actually drops to $9.2 million next year. He’ll need to show that he’s still one of the league’s most explosive pass rushers in order to justify that cap value.
The Bucs were thrilled to re-sign Spires, but Allen is hoping he has better luck than former G.M. Rich McKay, who watched Marcus Jones and Chidi Ahanotu fail miserably in their attempt to live up to their big contract extensions.
Should the Bucs choose to invest one of their 12 draft pick on a defensive end, it will likely happen late on the second day, where a player like Kansas DE David McMillan, who is has good speed and pass-rushing ability, is expected to get selected.
Current Position Grade: B
Buc Update Publishing Schedule (Dates Subject To Change) April 6 – Defensive Tackles April 8 – Linebackers April 12 – Cornerbacks April 14 – Safeties April 16 – Kickers/Punters
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