FAB 4. Gholston’s Versatility Helps At DT
Before we talk about Tampa Bay’s nose tackle situation and the role that Will Gholston will play inside this Sunday at New Orleans, let’s clear one thing up.
Vita Vea, the team’s first-round pick, is not a nose tackle. Vea is the backup three-technique tackle to six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
Vea wasn’t slated to start next to McCoy this year. That distinction belongs to fifth-year nose tackle Beau Allen, who was a big free agent signing from Super Bowl champion Philadelphia in the offseason.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith and general manager Jason Licht prefer big nose tackles. So Allen, a big, tough 320-pounder, replaces Chris Baker, a fat, lazy 320-pounder.
Veteran Mitch Unrein was also signed to be Allen’s backup at the nose tackle position, but a severe concussion early in training camp has him starting the season on injured reserve. That leaves the Bucs perilously thin at the nose tackle and the three-technique tackle spot behind McCoy and Allen, especially this week with Vea still not practicing due to a severe calf strain.
So the player Smith and defensive line coach Brentson Buckner will really lean on inside this Sunday is Gholston, who has been Tampa Bay’s starting left defensive end for the past few seasons. With Vinny Curry supplanting Gholston in the starting lineup, the big 6-foot-6, 280-pounder will show off his value and his versatility playing inside at defensive tackle – at least for the next few weeks.
Gholston has experience playing inside before. In 2015 he started in place of the injured McCoy against Atlanta and came up with a career-high two sacks of Matt Ryan playing the three-technique spot. In the preseason win over Detroit, Gholston got a sack playing nose tackle next to McCoy.
“It’s fun, it’s fun in there and it’s quick in there,” Gholston said. “You’ve got to be way more technique sound and I think that’s helped me in my overall game. My size does help, but its just speed. Everything is sped up. Like I said, you got to be way more technique sound because the slightest inch or leeway, you get busted out of your gap.
“But it’s fun playing inside. It was definitely fun to get that sack – not just because I was at nose tackle, but it was fun because it was against Detroit, my hometown. It’s always fun to get a sack against the home team.”
Gholston had a rough start at training camp at defensive end. Perhaps it was losing 25 pounds in the offseason and slimming down to 280 that made things difficult for Gholston, but when he had to move inside during the preseason games and play three-technique and nose tackle things started to click.
“I told those guys that we are D-linemen and we are football players,” Buckner said when I asked about Gholston’s preseason. “So why would you lock yourself up and say, ‘I’m only going to be an end’? Okay, what if we have all these ends and all of a sudden we need a tackle? You should be able to get in there and play tackle. Will is showing his willingness to do it. Is it going to be perfect, no? But him being willing to go in there and trying to fight, yeah, it shows his versatility. I told him at the end of the day that the Bucs can only keep so many defensive linemen. Now he’s showing us – and everybody – that he can play end and he can play tackle. He’s a Swiss army knife.”
Smith appreciates Gholston’s position flexibility and his ability to make things happen inside.
“Will, with his length he can get deep, he can get into those windows into the pocket,” Smith said. “I think he’s shown steady improvement throughout our preseason work and he’s a guy that fits the build and fits the mold to able to play inside and outside.”
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter appreciates the fact that Gholston’s versatility means that the team didn’t have to go out and sign another new defensive tackle outside of Jerel Worthy.
“It helps lot – a lot,” Koetter said. “I mean the fact that Will’s versatility, you know, it’s much like an offensive lineman that can play guard or tackle or center and guard. Will has been effective as an inside player, and I’m sure we’ll continue to use him that way.”
Worthy earned a spot on the 53-man roster as a reserve after showing hunger and ability in the final two preseason games after being a recent addition in Tampa Bay.
“To have an opportunity to get a player like Worthy that has played in NFL games has been big for us,” Smith said. “He came in here with the right attitude. He’s a big, strong, athletic defensive tackle that has played in NFL games. He’s probably got a lot more plays than a lot of players on our defense, so he’s a guy that came in, and he earned a spot. He didn’t blink when we said, “Hey, we need you to play in this fourth preseason, we need you to do this in the second half.” He was workman-like and he’s been great since he’s been here. He’s a very strong, aggressive, defensive tackle that’s going to give up an opportunity to have a good rotation.”
The 6-foot-2, 298-pound Worthy began his career in Green Bay in 2012 and spent the last three years with Buffalo. He’s more of a run-stuffer than he is a pass rusher, evidenced by his 2.5 career sacks.
Because of his experience in the defense, Gholston will likely get more snaps on Sunday than Worthy at defensive tackle. With his height and long arms, the Bucs expect Gholston to play a role in disrupting New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees’ sight line in the pocket and perhaps bat a pass or two down at the line of scrimmage.
“I just like being able to play and Coach Buck having confidence in me to go play anywhere,” Gholston said. “That’s what means the most to me – him having the confidence in my ability. It’s actually more fun playing inside. You get to see different looks, and you get to play something different. I don’t know, man. I just like playing.“