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Tampa Bay’s defensive line suffered a tremendous loss this offseason when defensive line coach Rod Marinelli left the Bucs to become the head coach in Detroit.

While it lost Marinelli, Tampa Bay managed to keep his players by re-signing Chris Hovan and restructuring the contract of Anthony McFarland.

Although he didn’t record a sack in 2005, Hovan proved to be a force against the run, notching 64 tackles, which led the Bucs defensive line. With Hovan onboard, the Bucs run defense dramatically improved, going from 19th in 2004 to 6th in that category in 2005.

The 6-foot-2, 298-pound Hovan showed last year that he can effectively handle and play through double teams from the nose tackle (one-technique) position, and he should help the Bucs shut down the run again in 2006.

Under tackle Anthony McFarland also played well against the run last year, but he didn’t win enough one-on-one matchups and struggled to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.

McFarland (6-0, 300) notched 41 tackles and just two sacks in 2005. He’s recorded just 20 sacks during his seven-year career, and the Bucs expect him to have more of a Warren Sapp-type presence on passing downs, especially when he finds himself in one-on-one battles in the trenches. If he doesn’t produce more of a pass rush and struggles to stay healthy, McFarland, who turns 29 in December, could become a salary cap casualty in 2007.

By stripping McFarland’s deal of $1.5 million worth of incentives and restructuring the contracts of several players, the Bucs were able to keep versatile defensive lineman Ellis Wyms around.

Wyms, who recorded 17 tackles and two sacks in 2005, can play all four positions along Tampa Bay’s defensive line and provides valuable depth in that area. He also keeps Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen fresh by substituting with them quite often.

While he has good value as a versatile player, Wyms (6-3, 290) is scheduled to have a base salary of $3 million and a cap value of $3.250 million in 2006, which is quite expensive for a backup. That said, the Bucs expect Wyms, who is under contract through the 2009 season, to push McFarland for playing time in 2006.

Tampa Bay also expects second-year DT Anthony Bryant (6-3, 337) to show some significant progress in his second season. Bryant, who is best suited at nose tackle, saw a limited amount of playing time during the 2005 regular season. The fact that the Bucs re-signed Hovan suggests they didn’t believe Bryant was ready to be a starter yet, but the team would like to throw the big boy from Alabama into the rotation more this season.

Jon Bradley (6-0, 301) played in 13 games with the Bucs last season and appears to have the edge over Lynn McGruder (6-2, 302) and Keith Wright (6-2, 275), both of whom went to training camp with the Bucs last year.

However, Bradley’s roster spot instantly would be put in jeopardy should Tampa Bay invest of its 10 draft picks on a defensive tackle, which is quite possible.

Florida State’s Brodrick Bunkley might tempt the Bucs in the first round if he’s still around at No. 23.

Despite his off-the-field issues, Tampa Bay will take a hard look at LSU Claude Wroten, who could drop deep into the third round. Jonathan Lewis (Virginia Tech), Dusty Dvoracek (Oklahoma) also are players the Bucs will consider taking in the third round.

North Carolina State’s John McCargo, Texas A&M’s Johnny Jolly and Louisville’s Montavious Stanley could be available when the Bucs pick in the fourth round.

Late-round candidates at the defensive tackle position include LeKevin Smith (Nebraska), Manaia Brown (BYU), Marcus Green (Ohio State), McKinley Boykin (Mississippi) and Manase Hopoi (Washington).

Current Position Grade: B

Bucs Update Publishing Schedule
April 26 – Linebackers
April 27 – Cornerbacks
April 27 – Safeties
April 28 – Kickers/Punters

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