Once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced final cuts this past weekend, their ensuing depth chart for Week 1 preparation against Atlanta wasn’t expected to look too different from the preseason.

And it didn’t … for the most part.

The one attention-grabbing tweak was at defensive end, where William Gholston has (for the moment) unseated Jacquies Smith to start opposite free-agent acquisition Robert Ayers.

Smith has done nothing but exceed expectations since joining the Bucs as a relatively unknown waiver-wire pickup following Week 1 in 2014. It was during that season, in fact, that Smith took starting reps away from Gholston and eventually finished second on the team behind Gerald McCoy with 6.5 sacks. Smith followed that up with a seven-sack campaign in 2015 and led the team with four this preseason.

When asked about the current situation from in front of his locker Wednesday afternoon, Smith didn’t hide his disappointment but also made it clear that he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get on the field and perform at a high level.

“I don’t really want to get into that,” Smith said about his thoughts on his role right now. “Since I first got into this league I’ve done whatever a coach asks me to do so if a coach sees a fit where he thinks he needs to play me, I’ll do the best to fill that role. A lot of people are going to ask me about not starting but it’s like in the NBA. There’s a sixth-man award and I take that role right now. Whatever opportunity you get you have to capitalize on.”

As for Gholston, the 25-year-old is entering his contract year after coming to the Bucs as a fourth-round draft pick in 2013 out of Michigan State. He played in all 16 games last season and made a career-best 11 starts, but his role has morphed in Tampa Bay. All 11 of Gholston’s starts last year were listed at left end but he spent plenty of time on the interior, as well.

“The more you can do the more you can do, but position flexibility the whole time I’ve been here is what really gives you a chance to get a real look, be it from this team or any other team,” Gholston said after expressing his excitement to begin the year as a starter. “If you can play inside and outside it’s a great thing.”

On the outside is where new Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith sees Gholston providing the biggest impact for now. It won’t be until kickoff Sunday at the Georgia Dome that Bucs fans get to see the exact difference in playing time, but head coach Dirk Koetter said both will get plenty of snaps.

“We’re going to rotate guys,” Koetter said. “I just think that’s the norm in the NFL right now. Atlanta is doing the same thing with their defensive line. It’s just tough. If you have the depth to rotate and you’re rotating fresh D-linemen against O-linemen, that’s definitely the way to go. That was always a hallmark of what [defensive line coach] Jay Hayes did in Cincinnati and that’s something we’ll try to do here.”

The offseason addition of Ayers combined with selecting rookie Noah Spence in the second round meant that playing-time decisions were coming no matter what.

“Obviously we have a lot of talented guys,” Jacquies Smith said about the team’s five current defensive ends and Gholston, who remains listed with the all-encompassing ‘defensive lineman’ tag. “We brought in a lot of talented guys and the guys that have already been on the team have been improving.”

Tampa Bay led the league with 16 preseason sacks and 12 of them came from the defensive line. Mike Smith is installing an attacking defensive scheme that differs from the Lovie Smith days and Gholston said he thinks the exhibition results can roll into the regular season.

“I feel like it puts more people in different opportunities,” Gholston said. “It isn’t the same thing. It’s so versatile as far as having so many different looks. Everybody can get a look and get put in the best position to make a play.”

Not all of those sacks and quarterback hurries came against starters, however, and they’ll be all but forgotten by Sunday afternoon, Smith said. “You can see we’ve done some good things in the preseason, but obviously the preseason doesn’t matter. We could go out the first game and not do anything and everybody will be like, ‘Where’s the pass rush?’

“So we just have to go out there and put it on tape every week.”

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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Iowabucfan
4 years ago

I know J Smith is disappointed. But, he will play and get some good snaps in. Plus, I do believe the starting line-up will change as needed. Go Bucs!

Pewter Pirate
4 years ago

THE FORCE!!!!!!!

drdneast
4 years ago

There will be plenty of snaps to go around.
Perhaps Smith and Koetter feel the Falcons will lean more towards the run at the beginning of the game, as aspect that Gholston is better suited for defending.
The more third and longs the defense puts the Falcons in, the more Smith will see the field.

fredster
4 years ago

Smith is a better pass rusher by far. I think they are just worried he might get injured trying to rotate guys and keep him fresh. Gholston is a better run stopper. Smith stays healthy guarantee he will have more sacks than Gholston.

Garv
4 years ago

This is a GOOD “problem!” Depth at DE! Gholston is, IMO, also valuable on the inside where there is more of a depth problem.
But as of today, this team has made great strides as far as rushing the QB goes and that can only help our much improved secondary all the more.

Horse
4 years ago

Gholston has disappointed as and I thought he would become a force. I have no clue why J. Smith thinks he’s better as they manhandle him on most of the plays. Sure he gets some sacks, but he is not a run stopper and most time is taken out of the picture when pass rushing.

GoldsonAges
4 years ago

Smith is a pass rush specialist, not an evrry down player

Horse
Reply to  GoldsonAges
4 years ago

Exactly

seat26
4 years ago

The Defense really looked good in the Preseason, and if that continues we are really going to have an exciting team this year. The Bucs led the NFL during the preseason with 16 sacks. I just hope we can stay healthy and our backups show us more if they are called upon. Smith will probably see plenty of action. I think the big surprise is that Noah Spence may not see much at all. I wonder if his problem if there is one is that he is basically a tweener ? Not big enough to play end, not small enough… Read more »

scubog
4 years ago

Gholston has improved every year. He’s just not an off the edge sack artist that folks tend to notice. He’s a good all around DE who doesn’t get driven off the ball on running plays. My guess is that all of the defensive linemen will play. Who runs out of the tunnel is insignificant.

Garv
Reply to  scubog
4 years ago

Yup. Who starts in the rotation this season is not the point. ALL those guys are going to get significant snaps. McCoy and Ayers probably the most. REALLY am excited over the prospect of actually having an effective pass rush again!

Horse
Reply to  Garv
4 years ago

Agree, I’m excited to see what N. spense will bring to the rush which I believe will be more than J. Smith. Heck I hope both are big time sackers. Go Bucs!

jme0151
4 years ago

Gholston will move inside on most passing downs anyway so Smith will see the field plenty.

stlbucsfan
4 years ago

Smith doesnt see it but this is actually a good thing for him. He’s too slight of build to be an every down DE and is at his best on 3rd and longs. Bringing a fresh Spence and Smith in on 3rd downs will be scary.

Greene22
4 years ago

It’s because he seriously is the best run stopping DE in the league . I know it seems crazy , but focus on just his game more often and see how he changes the run game . He’s a boy 6-7 and has a 7 foot wingspan . His long arms just grab ball carriers as they are trying too run past him . He usually has a RT on him and he still manages too bring down the RB haha. Problem is he ha no pass rush moves really , or maybe he does but he’s just too slow… Read more »

Horse
Reply to  Greene22
4 years ago

Could be because Ayers and L. David are there on the right side. Might be McCoy and Gholston discourage running on the left side and they spring the trap on the right side with L. David quickness?

fredster
4 years ago

I’m not sure Smith is only a pass specialist and slight of build at 6’2″ 260? Gholston is 6’6″ and 280. Smith does need to improve in run game though. He’s been unlucky with injury but the guy has played 1 year so not enough data for me to say he’s too small to stay healthy or can’t play every down. Gholston is a non-factor in pass game to me. I’ve watched him and have hoped he would do something but he hasn’t.

It does sound like doesn’t matter much who starts as Smitty really likes to rotate guys.

EastEndBoy
4 years ago

I think we’re all aligned here that this seems like a good decision…I suspect the coaches went back and watched how Washington ran all over us (yes it was preseason) and wanted to make sure ATL didn’t get any fancy ideas about doing the same…Gholston much better against the run!