It’s tough for a group to show what it can do when it can never stay together.

That was the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at defensive tackle last season and it’s not an unfamiliar issue in recent years.

The team’s ‘Big Mac’ starting interior duo of Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald couldn’t make it through Week 7 before getting split up. McDonald injured a pectoral muscle during Week 7’s loss at Washington that ended his season early. McCoy’s no stranger to the trainer’s room but he managed to play 15 of 16 games and make his fourth straight Pro Bowl roster.

In two years with Tampa Bay, McDonald’s taken advantage of the opportunity to prove his value on the field and in the locker room. The effectiveness of both only increases while next to each other, but that hasn’t been realized often enough. Only 16 of 32 games have featured an active McCoy and McDonald.

“Health within the whole team is going to be a tremendous help,” McDonald said during last month’s three-day mini-camp. “To get the guys to the gate healthy and everybody is ready to play instead of getting guys back from injury and then having to get them in shape for real football is a big component. So I think by us having a smart and proactive way we approach the game, I think we’ll hit that gate and say, ‘You know what? Everybody is healthy, everybody is in shape, and everybody is ready to go,’ and that’s half the battle in the NFL.”

If keeping on the field is objective No. 1 for the unit, figuring out which players provide the depth Tampa Bay needs to improve a defense that got lit up for 26.1 points per game is a close second. Fourth-year Akeem Spence is back after an injury-riddled 2015 bookended by injuries, as is DE/DT William Gholston.

Not retained heading into training camp, however, were 2015 veteran contributors Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel. Melton’s 513 combined defensive snaps played ranked fourth among all players on that side of the ball and McDaniel was in for 297 plays.

As of right now, Tampa Bay’s looking to replace those two main departures with a collection of inexperienced tackles.

A.J. Francis (6-foot-5, 330-pounds) has been in the league since 2013 but appeared in just three games. Travis Britz (6-foot-4, 293-pounds) and DaVonte Lambert (6-foot-2, 282-pounds) are both undrafted rookies fighting for their first roster spot.

The number of NFL starts among that group of three hopefuls is zero.

Training camp is fast approaching and the team will be scouting out 31 other rosters during that time to make moves prior to Sept. 11’s season opener in Atlanta. McDaniel was a veteran August addition last year and Tampa Bay’s thinness at the position makes DT look like a prime target to address for general manager Jason Licht and the front office.

Considering the current free agent picture, upcoming signings on par with last year’s McDaniel and Melton pickups should probably be expected. Both players also remain without a team and Melton’s 30 tackles last year were only four behind McCoy.

There are some veteran options worth considering for short-term help.

Kevin Williams will turn 36 this August, but the five-time All-Pro managed to play in all 16 games last year with New Orleans while recording 32 tackles, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles. Randy Starks, 32, is a two-time Pro Bowler who posted 29 tackles and a sack in 15 games with the Cleveland Browns last year. Sammie Lee Hill, 29, missed the first six games of the season with Tennessee and finished the last of a three-year contract with 19 tackles.

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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76Buc
76Buc
5 years ago

This is the kind of articles we need this time of year to get a handle on the team’s needs. Keep it up! We need in depth FOOTBALL analysis.Thanks Eric! Keep it coming.
Who are some of the players you think the Bucs may be targeting?

WinstonMVP
WinstonMVP
5 years ago

Great points EH. Sorry for being critical but we lost week 7 in Washington. :) Go Bucs!!!

fredster
fredster
5 years ago

Good article. Little confused why we did not sign Melton and or McDaniel back? Salary cap issue? They are talking about replacing them with other old free agents or un-drafted rookies that never played in NFL? Yea I guess McCoy and McDonald better stay healthy!

chetthevette
chetthevette
5 years ago

Got a feeling that it won’t be easy to double team GMAC so much this year. Hope this keeps him upright for longer this year. I look for Gohlson to play better in the middle also. You know how these guys bring it on during a contact year. The youngsters on the team are just gonna have bring it on. GOBUCS

Horse
Horse
5 years ago

For me it is logical to assume one of the four DT’s would be a rookie. Go Bucs!

drdneast
drdneast
5 years ago

Melton appears to be the best of the lot and didn’t have a bad season last year but didn’t get the umber of sacks the Bucs were looking for.
He could probably be had for the league minimum which is a big pus.

owlykat
owlykat
5 years ago

They need to sign Melton now, so he can learn all the nuances of the DC’s system, before another team has an injury and picks him up. He didn’t produce the sacks they wanted last year but he was good against the run and can also play DE if needed!

georgehicks
georgehicks
5 years ago

Well Guys when your team gives everything on the field it shows that they give everything they have. I believe that this year it may be better and the players will be in better shape. Iam looking forward to the challenge and the the rewards this year Go Bucs and the fans-GLH age 71

PSchmit
PSchmit
5 years ago

Ayers can play inside if needed but I don’t really like any of the “older” options listed above. Would have been nice to stay put and draft DT with 3rd round pick or even grab Andrew Billings from Baylor in 4th. All moot points if this rotation does stay healthy as there’s already a lot of talent here!