What should we expect from Bucs' defensive ends
We know the Bucs addressed their defensive tackle position in a major way during the draft, selecting Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, the likely opening-day starters.
But other than using a seventh-round pick on Erik Lorig, who hasn't yet practiced because of a pectoral injury, the Bucs' collection of defensive ends remains unchanged. In fact, the unit isn't even as deep as it was last season when you factor in the departure of 2009 starting left end Jimmy Wilkerson to New Orleans.
So, have the Bucs erred in not addressing this position, or is there reason to think the Bucs can finally mount a consistent pass rush off the edges?
The truth is, the answer will come during the regular season. But I can tell you what the Bucs are hoping for.
Put simply, they're banking on the likes of Stylez White, Tim Crowder, Kyle Moore and Michael Bennett improving markedly as a result of the attention the new tackles will command. It's not a bad assumption. If McCoy and Price -- and second-year man Roy Miller, for that matter -- live up to their billing, the defensive ends will certainly benefit from the interior push. The jobs of the defensive tackles, particularly McCoy, will be to cause havoc on the interior of the defensive line. The Bucs are hoping this leads to one-on-one situations for the defensive ends as opposing offensive tackles presumably won't get much help in pass protection.
But even if the assumption holds true, the team's collection of defensive ends needs to play at a higher level. Moore remains an enigma after losing most of his rookie season to injuries. Crowder showed some flashes of the sort of talent that made him a second-round pick in 2007, but there's a reason he's only started five games in three seasons. Even White, who led the team with 6.5 sacks last season, seemed to disappear for long stretches. He didn't record his first sack until Week 6 and was shut out in the final three games of the season. Coach Raheem Morris is counting on White playing at a high level because it's a contract year for him, something that shouldn't be discounted.
The Bucs' defense flat-out let quarterbacks get way too comfortable in the pocket, and that had a direct impact on the number of deep balls we saw completed against Tampa Bay last season (You might want to cue up the Eagles and Patriots games if you don't believe me).
To be totally fair, it's hard to judge these players on what they did in 2009 because the production at defensive tackle was so minimal. Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims were simply not a formidable tandem, and the line as a whole suffered.
But if any of the Bucs' defensive ends are worth keeping long term, they should make that evident this season as they have the sort of interior linemen that will give them opportunities to shine. The bar will be higher this season -- and it should be.