FAB 2. Bucs Have Insane D-Line Depth
Not only has Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht revamped the Bucs defensive line with a handful of talented new players, the personnel grouping options for Brentson Buckner, the new defensive line coach Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter hired this offseason, seem endless. Prepare to be excited about the possibilities, Bucs fans.
First, let’s take a look at what could possibly be Tampa Bay’s starting defensive line.
LE Vinny Curry
DT Gerald McCoy
NT Beau Allen
RE Jason Pierre-Paul
That’s two Pro Bowl-caliber players in McCoy and Pierre-Paul, and three players with Super Bowl-winning experience in JPP, Allen and Curry. McCoy and Pierre-Paul can bring the pass rush from both inside and outside, while Allen and Curry are noted run stuffers.
Now let’s examine what the Bucs’ second-string defensive line could resemble.
LE Will Gholston
DT Vita Vea
NT Mitch Unrein
RE Noah Spence
While this unit is younger and perhaps less experienced with Vea and Spence, there is still plenty of talent. Gholston and Unrein are proven run stoppers, Vea has the talent to push the pocket and Spence has the speed to seal the deal after get after quarterbacks.
That’s a hell of a second defensive line, and there would be some NFL teams that would love to have the Bucs’ second unit. And in a recent sitdown with the PewterReport.com staff, Licht told me he loves the competition and to not count out Will Clarke, DaVonte Lambert and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, either.
Licht said that Buckner plans on mixing and matching the defensive line personnel this year.
“Every D-line coach is a little different,” Licht said. “It’s too early to tell exactly what’s going to happen, but I’m sure you can expect a few different wrinkles here and there. I know Buck likes taking advantage of match-ups.”
When the Bucs are facing a short-yardage or goal line situation, how about a defensive line that features the 347-pound Vea and the 320-pound Allen inside with Gholston and Unrein, who both check in around 290 pounds, at defensive end?
When Buckner wants to go to a “Jet” package in obvious pass rushing situations to get some speed on the field I could see him put McCoy and Curry inside as nickel rushing defensive tackles with Spence at left end and JPP at right end.
“We were real creative last year and Mike Smith is an intelligent guy,” Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. “He can come up with everything, but it is all about us executing. With the defensive weapons we have now, I won’t be surprised that it will happen.”
Last year the Bucs defensive line was one of the team’s weak links. In the span of just one offseason Licht has turned it into what should be one of the team’s strengths, beginning with he and Koetter bringing in Buckner, followed by a slew of new defensive linemen.
“They set the tone,” Licht said. “They really set the tone up front. Show me a good defensive line and you have a couple of Pro Bowl players in the secondary and in the linebacker corps, too. I say that Buck is probably the happiest guy here, but Lavonte, Kwon [Alexander] and Kendell [Beckwith], once he gets healthy, should be pretty happy, too.”
“Having those big guys in front of us will help us (linebackers),” David said. “I haven’t met Vita, but he had a visit a couple weeks ago and I have heard nothing but great things about him. It was obvious we picked him because the talk about him was real big. He will fit our locker room and we are ready to see how it goes.”
While David is overjoyed about the team’s big, new additions up front, some of Tampa Bay’s offensive linemen know that their job on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place just got harder.
“It makes things difficult, but that’s a good thing in the end,” Marpet said. “I think it will definitely make things difficult, much harder for the opposing teams to game plan. And it isn’t just Beau Allen and Vita Vea. I think it makes the whole defensive line difficult to scheme against. I think everyone is excited to see what our defensive line is going to do. We know they are going to dominate. Every position group is important, but in the NFL if you can rush the passer and stop the run, that helps your team tremendously.”
New Bucs center Ryan Jensen was happy to come in as part of a free agent class that consisted of Allen and Unrein, but the more recent additions of Curry, JPP and Vea have him really excited – even though training camp will become a war in the trenches.
“When you see a front like that from a scheming from an offensive front, that is a lot of big names and guys right there,” Jensen said. “It is going to be heck for teams going against is next year. It is hard going into a game knowing it is going to be coming from everywhere, so it is an advantage for us.”
In the span of just one offseason, the Bucs’ defensive line cupboard has gone from being almost bare to completely stocked – perhaps overflowing thanks to the additions of Buckner and a handful of really talented players. Where those players line up and which mismatches Buckner and Smith can create will remain a mystery that opposing offensive linemen will have a tough time solving in 2018.