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In 2007, the Buccaneers received good production out of their defensive lineman. New defensive line coach Larry Coyer employed a heavy rotation to keep the lineman fresh, and because of that, all of the defensive lineman on the roster received significant playing time. With Coyer being promoted to assistant head coach, there is some doubt as to whether every player in the unit will receive a lot of snaps. However, new defensive line coach Todd Wash is believed to be inclined to maintaining a regular rotation.
Right now, the Buccaneers have seven defensive ends on their roster. At defensive tackle the team has six players. Most likely the team will keep eight or nine lineman, thus at least four players are going to be cut. Given the number of free agents the team has signed and the players that they have drafted, some notable players will be cut along the defensive line. Last year Simeon Rice and Ellis Wyms were let go prior to the regular season.
This Cover 2 will try to give Pewter Report Insiders an idea as to who is in good standing to make the team, and who has an uphill climb. One theme throughout this Cover 2 will be positional flexibility. That attribute is very important to the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay loves players who can play multiple positions, and that is understandable because those players improve the overall depth of your football team. Cover 1- What Defensive Ends Are Most Likely To Make The Team?
Tampa Bay has two ends that are locks to make the team in Gaines Adams and Greg White. Last year was their first season as Buccaneers and they were the most consistent pass rushers for the team. With youth on their side and being able to draw on their growing experience, the young ends are being counted on to provide a similar pass rush this season.
Adams came on strong in the second half of the year, and the Bucs feel that he will continue to improve in his second season. The fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft logged 55 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles. In the playoff loss to the Giants, Adams made five tackles and a sack. After a solid rookie season, Adams has been committed this offseason to improve. He has redistributed some body weight from fat to muscle, and has looked strong at right defensive end in the organized team activities that the media has been allowed to watch.
White came out of the arena league to not only make the team, but be perhaps the team's most valuable player on defense. In 2007, White recorded 50 tackles, with eight sacks, and seven forced fumbles. Tampa Bay has been discussing a contract extension with White's representatives, and White has been present for all the OTAs this offseason. At the last OTA, White was primarily with the second unit, but did start at left defensive end in the final team scrimmage. White also has the ability to rush the passer from the defensive tackle position.
Outside of Adams and White, the remaining five defensive ends will be competing for two or three roster spots. Those players are Marques Douglas, Kevin Carter, Jimmy Wilkerson, Charles Bennett, Patrick Chukwurah, and Marquies Gunn. Some of those players have a better chance to make the team than others.
Douglas may have the most security of those five players. In the NFL, a player's value is often determined by how large a salary he is paid. Douglas is one of the team's highest paid defensive ends. The 6-foot-2, 292-pound Douglas has been a consistent producer in his career. After hardly getting a single snap in his first two seasons, Douglas has notched 335 tackles, 19 sacks, and 10 passes defensed over the past seven seasons.
The 31-year-old Douglas has the ability to play defensive end or defensive tackle. The team-oriented Douglas has not stood out in the OTAs, but he is the kind of end who shows up when the players are wearing pads and are playing with full contact. Due to his salary and position flexibility, Douglas may be the best bet to make the Bucs at end after Adams and White.
After Douglas, the backup who has one of the best chances to make to the team is Wilkerson. The Bucs signed Wilkerson early in free agency, and Pewter Report has heard that he has impressed in OTAs. Wilkerson, 27, has looked faster than advertised, and may have the most positional flexibility of any of Tampa Bay's defensive lineman. For the Chiefs he showed the ability to play defensive end, tackle, and special teams. This allows him to contribute to the Bucs in a diverse manner, giving the team a large contribution (not necessarily on the stat sheet) out of a single roster spot.
Sources have told Pewter Report that Wilkerson is a good special teams player. Over his five seasons in Kansas City, Wilkerson (6-2, 290) did not put up big totals as a backup, but considering the reviews coming out about him at One Buc Place, he may put up bigger totals next season then he did in his years in as a Chief.
Carter (6-6, 305) is a player who is similar to Wilkerson and Douglas. Both have the ability to play end or tackle, and both will standout when the players are in pads making full contact. Carter has had a prolific NFL career with 100.5 sacks. Last year, Carter was solid against the run with 73 tackles. His pass rushing ability seems to have declined as he only notched three sacks. That was his lowest total since 2001. Over the season, Carter's playing time seemed to decrease due to the emergence of Adams, White, and tackle Jovan Haye. Carter will turn 35 next season and is not assured of a roster spot. He will have to beat out youngsters Bennett, Gunn, and veteran Chukwurah.
The remaining three players that will have an uphill climb to make the roster are players that are locked into one position along the defensive line. Chukwurah is a valuable contributor on special teams, and he has proven the most in the NFL. Last season, he battled injuries missing seven contests and totaled 16 tackles and one sack. He did record 10 tackles on special teams. Over his career, Chukwurah has played linebacker, but has been used strictly as an end in Tampa Bay.
Sources have indicated to Pewter Report not to count Chukwurah out, especially considering his special teams prowess. The front office will also want to keep Chukwurah in part because they gave him a quality contract, and he was the first player the team signed in free agency in 2007. Still, Chukwurah may have to prove to be irreplaceable on special teams in order to make the 2008 roster.
Bennett has had a strong offseason recovering from a torn knee ligament last preseason. He seems to be fully recovered; he has added weight and has looked fast at OTAs. The third-year player now stands at 6-foot-3, 272-pounds, a gain of over 20 pounds since he entered the league. Bennett detailed his weight gain to Pewter Report, in publisher Scott Reynolds's Fab 5 of May 17. The Buccaneers have a 2006 seventh-round draft pick invested in Bennett, and selected him for his pass rush ability. Bennett has been involved on special teams in the preseason, and to this point he has not seen snaps at defensive tackle.
Those pass rushing skills is what Bennett, 25, will need to flash in a big way in order to make the team. Bennett should get plenty of opportunity in preseason games. A prime example for Bennett is White, who came onto the team in training camp and proceeded to excel and make the team. A preseason with a sack or 1.5 sacks won't be enough, Bennett will need to produce somewhere around four sacks to force his way onto the roster. He is an intriguing player, but he has not proven to produce in the NFL, thus he will have an uphill climb to make the Buccaneers.
The end that may have the hardest time making the roster is Gunn. Like Bennett, Gunn, 27, will have to have a tremendous preseason in order to make the roster. Gunn (6-4, 264) has not seen the field in an NFL regular season game, and seems to be the player that the team has the least amount invested in.
Before making a final decision the Buccaneers will also consider the intangibles involved with the players. Veterans like Douglas and Carter have played on some great defenses, and have handled their fair share of adversity through their careers. Both players are considered to be excellent teammates and leaders. Having them in the meeting room and on the sideline will help the maturation of the Bucs ends, White and Adams, that are short on NFL experience.
At the same time, Douglas and Carter are most likely not going to have a season like White did last year. Last season, Tampa Bay improved its sack total to 33, tied for 16th in the league, the year before the Bucs were tied for 30th in sacks with only 25. They want it to be improved for next season. Bennett is perhaps the player that has the best chance to be like White. The Buccaneers seemed to be most dependent on Adams making strides in his second season to improve their sack total.
Beyond next season, developing a young end like Bennett to pair with his college teammate Adams would be beneficial to the Buccaneers. Next year will indicate whether White is a consistent producer or had one flash season. With either result the Buccaneers want to have three pass rushing ends to rotate their players and keep them fresh, and to safeguard the team if one of their starting ends is injured.
In the 2008 NFL Draft, the Bucs passed on drafting Clemson end Philip Merling, and were not in a position to draft Florida end Derrick Harvey. The hernia injury hurt Merling's draft stock as he fell out of the first round. The Buccaneers held Harvey in high regard, but knew that the odds of him falling to the 20th pick were not good. In order to have a line to build a playoff defense around, at some point Tampa Bay will have to give opportunities to young ends to go with Adams.
Considering the players and their intangibles, right now it is this Pewter Reporters prediction that backing up Adams and White will be Douglas and Wilkerson. If the team keeps five defensive ends then Carter would be the player in the best position to be the fifth end, over Chukwurah. Bennett is intriguing, but has not produced at the NFL level.
Whether the Buccaneers keep two or three backup ends is very dependent on how many defensive tackles make the final roster. It seems that one of the line positions will have five players and one will have four. In order to figure out which one will have the greater number, we will now delve into the defensive tackles.
Cover 2- What Defensive Tackles Are Most Likely To Make The Team?
In a similar manner as the defensive ends, the Bucs seem to be set with their starters in the interior of their defensive line. At defensive tackle, the team is set with its starters of Chris Hovan at nose tackle and Haye at under tackle. Last year, Hovan and Haye combined to give the Buccaneers some of the best play they have gotten out of their defensive tackles since the years when Warren Sapp was manning the three technique and had solid teammates playing next to him in Anthony McFarland, Chartric Darby, and Brad Culpepper. The other defensive tackles battling for two or three roster spots are Ryan Sims, Greg Peterson, rookie Dre Moore, and undrafted rookie Chris Bradwell.
Hovan and Haye were particularly adept at contributing in the run game. Haye recorded 97 tackles, six sacks, and four fumble recoveries. Just behind him in takedowns was Hovan with 95, 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. Both players have been participating in the offseason workouts and seemed poised to repeat their success in 2008.
While combining for almost 200 tackles, neither Hovan nor Haye registered a tackle for a loss. That is a definite point of improvement for the Bucs starters, and Haye will need to make a big jump there to help his argument for the contract extension that he wants.
Haye's representatives have been negotiating a long-term contract with Tampa Bay since October. The sides have reportedly not been close on an extension. The Buccaneers probably want to see him build on his 2008 success before they make him one of the highest paid players at his position.
If the sides are unable to come to an agreement the Bucs seemed to be prepared for that possibility. They drafted defensive tackles in the past two drafts. Last year they selected Peterson in the fifth round, and this year they selected Moore in the fourth round.
Peterson (6-5, 286) had a respectable rookie season for a fifth-round pick out of a small school, North Carolina Central. He made 1.5 sacks and 19 tackles. Over the course of the season Peterson, 24, seemed to hit the rookie wall somewhat early and was inactive for five of the last six games. That was also due to the ascension of play from Sims.
Tampa Bay likes Peterson's positional flexibility. Peterson played end in college, and tackle and special teams for the Bucs. At the last OTA, Peterson seemed to be struggling. Coach Wash was making Peterson repeat certain drills until he got it right. Peterson was also getting coaching from teammate Carter in between reps. Coming from a small college and their level of play, Peterson is a project that will need a few training camps and preseasons to show that he can be productive at the NFL level.
After conferring with sources, those struggles seem to have been limited to that one practice. Sources have said that Peterson has had a strong spring. They believe that Peterson will continue his improvement, and will not be in jeopardy of getting cut. Of all the defensive tackles, Peterson seems to be the only one who has the ability to play multiple positions. That fact will certainly help him make the team.
Another player who is probably not likely to be cut is Sims. After finishing the season strong, Sims seems to be in a solid position as Hovan's backup entering training camp. Sims (6-4, 315) is the biggest lineman that Tampa Bay has. Sims made 23 tackles and one sack last year.
Despite a lack of playing time, Sims led the Buccaneers in tackles for a loss with four. Linebacker Barrett Ruud and cornerback Ronde Barber tied for second with three. With a nice combination of size and speed, Sims could be the long-term replacement for Hovan who will be 30 this season. Sims is in the final year of his contract with Tampa Bay, and will have that as added motivation for this season.
Due to his draft slot and the investment that the team made in him, Moore seems to be likely to make the roster. Many people thought that Moore would be drafted before the fourth round. He fell due to a late start in football that held him back from making a big impact in his first three college seasons. Moore had a huge senior season notching 63 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, one interception and six sacks.
At the rookie mini-camp and the OTAs, Moore was out of shape and was receiving a lot of attention from Wash. He flashed the ability to play under tackle in a Tampa 2 system at the Senior Bowl, and may be a more power under tackle then the traditional speed under tackles that Tampa Bay has had. While Moore stands a great chance to make the roster, it remains to be seen whether he will be active on game days and beat out the likes of Peterson, Carter, Wilkerson, and Douglas for the snaps that spell Haye.
The final player competing for a roster spot is undrafted free agent Chris Bradwell. If Bradwell had stayed at Florida State beyond his freshman season he may have been able to have a more noteworthy college career and improved his chance to make an NFL roster. Bradwell played one season at junior college in 2005 before sitting out football in 2006, and then playing his last year at Troy. In his fourth year he had a big impact, he recorded 36 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and one pass defensed.
Bradwell (6-4, 280) will need a monster preseason to make the roster. Realistically, he may be trying out for the practice squad in training camp. The Buccaneers will also need to make roster cuts in order to have room for their rookies. That will be the first round of cuts that Bradwell will have to survive.
Unlike the defensive ends, the Buccaneers do not have a choice of established veterans over unproven talented youth. All the defensive tackles are young, with the exception of the veteran Hovan. The only real question is whether the team will keep four and five tackles. With sources indicating that Peterson has had a strong spring and they don't expect his roster spot to be in jeopardy, it looks most likely that five tackles will make the team.
The final prediction for the defensive tackles is that backing up Haye and Hovan will be Sims, Peterson, and Moore. With the positional flexibility of Peterson, the Buccaneers would have three players that could play end and tackle in: Peterson, Wilkerson, and Douglas.
Making judgments on defensive line players is very difficult when the players are not wearing pads and going full contact. A year ago there was a lot of hype regarding defensive tackle Darrell Campbell. When training camp and the preseason started Campbell was not able to earn a roster spot after standing out in shorts, jersey, and helmet in OTAs and mini-camp.
Considering the example of Campbell, it can put in perspective the positive talk this offseason of Bennett. The bottom line is Bennett will need to keep up his good play and be a real standout in the preseason. The Campbell instance also tempers talk of veterans like Carter and Douglas not looking good in OTAs. When the pads come on, big physical veterans like Carter and Douglas will look far more productive.
Here are the nine defensive lineman that is the prediction of this Campbell's Cover 2, and also happens to be in sync with Pewter Report's Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn 53 man roster projection from an earlier Flynn's Focus.
Defensive Ends: Adams, White, Wilkerson, and Douglas Defensive Tackles: Haye, Hovan, Sims, Peterson, and Moore
Four of those players have positional flexibility in playing another spot on the defensive line or special teams. Those players are highlighted in italics. The most notable cuts are Carter, Chukwurah, and Bennett. If there is an injury among the nine that make it, Carter could be the first player brought in for a replacement. If the special teams are struggling then Chukwurah could get a call. All in all, this group provides the Bucs with a diverse flexible group of athletes, and young talent to pair with experienced veterans.
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