Teammates and coaches always seem to talk about three things when the topic is Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end William Gholston: intensity, potential and versatility.
In three years with the Bucs since being their fourth-round draft pick in 2013 out of Michigan State, Gholston’s shown all three on the field. The problem, however, has been channeling and focusing his emotions and abilities with consistency.
There’s the Will Gholston that leads the team in tackles like he did Thursday night in St. Louis last year. Then there’s the Will Gholston that commits three 15-yard personal foul penalties during a second-half meltdown in Washington.
Adding the good, bad and everything in between of 2015 resulted in a pretty good year for the 6-foot-6, 281-pounder. Gholston logged the second most defensive snaps of any Buccaneer not named Gerald McCoy, recorded a career high three sacks and led all Bucs defensive linemen with 67 tackles. His seven penalties also tied with three other players for fifth most on the team and six of those infractions were personal fouls.
Gholston, whose mild-mannered, soft-spoken demeanor with the media belies the on-field depiction expressed by his comrades, appeared in all 16 games for the first time last season and his tackle total has increased from 30 to 41 to 67 over his three-year career. Now it’s time for Gholston to put it all together and he has the added motivation of being on a contract year. Birthday No. 25 comes next Sunday and his 4-year, $2.56-million rookie deal will expire at the end of the season.
Gholston’s name came up on a few occasions during Tampa Bay’s offseason program. Fellow defensive linemen Clinton McDonald and Robert Ayers pointed to Gholston’s impact potential and new head coach Dirk Koetter said how he’s looking forward to getting his high motor back on the field during live scrimmage and game situations.
“The style of play that Will Gholston has is not conducive to playing underwear football because Will’s a grinder,” Koetter said during the team’s three-day mini-camp last month. “Will is an ‘in-the-trenches, beat-you-up’ defensive end, so guys that are going to show up in underwear football are speed and quickness guys, flashy guys. To win football games in the NFL you have to have grind-it guys and I’ve been telling our defensive coaches all along, Will is one of those grinders. He’s an in-the-trenches, every-down guy. He’s going to give you what he has and I think for Robert Ayers to [compliment him], that just shows Robert’s experience in the league, that he can appreciate a guy that’s a grinder like Will is.
“We’re fortunate to have Will. Will is one of those guys that – again, because he’s not a flashy guy – not everybody appreciates what he does in the trenches, but we sure appreciate it.”
Gholston started 11 of 16 games last year at left defensive end and the former regime of head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would slide him in at defensive tackle on occasion, as well. Multiple injuries on the interior led to those moves but it allowed Gholston to display his versatility.
“Look at Will Gholston,” McDonald said this offseason. “He’s a guy that plays end, but he can play three-technique, he can play nose, he can play all across the line. He’s someone you really have to look out for. A guy that’s 6’6 or 6’7, 285 pounds that can play all the positions is a guy that says, ‘I leverage and have speed and know how to use my tools.’ ”
With Mike Smith in at defensive coordinator and a new staff, it’s unclear whether the team will keep bouncing Gholston inside or if he’ll be able to focus on coming off the edge. Longtime Cincinnati Bengals assistant and new Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes said in May it was too early to speculate on how players will be utilized but didn’t dismiss the idea of linemen shifting around.
“Until we start getting some pads on and things like that, that’s kind of hard to tell,” Hayes said. “We’re just going to have to mix and match the guys we have. My history has been we’re going to roll guys through, keep people fresh and just keep coming after people in waves. That’s kind of what I’ve always done and that’s what we’ll continue to do here.”
Something to note: Gholston was listed as a defensive lineman all last season on the team’s official roster. This year his position is specified as a defensive end. That doesn’t technically mean anything, but it may show the team’s intentions moving forward.
Regardless of where he lines up, Gholston needs to take the next step as a pro – especially if he wants to cash in during a contract year. Two big things to look for while watching No. 92 will be his ability to keep himself in check (less 15-yard penalties) and shorten his paths to the quarterback (more quarterback hits and sacks). Doing so and approaching double-digit territory in sacks will have Gholston cashing in next offseason.