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Bucs favor speed over size on defense

At 297 pounds, Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is much lighter than the 300-plus-pounders of other NFC South teams.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

At 297 pounds, Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is much lighter than the 300-plus-pounders of other NFC South teams.

TAMPA — The Bucs hope to make 2014 very different from 2013 in many ways, but one interesting change looks to be a smaller, faster front seven.

Speed on defense is a trademark of coach Lovie Smith, and depth chart analysis by philly.com had the Bucs with the second-lightest front seven in the NFL — the lightest, if you correctly move tackle Clinton McDonald into the starting lineup.

The Super Bowl champion Seahawks have the sixth-lightest front seven in the rankings, with the Colts and 49ers, two other playoff teams last season, also among the eight lightest.

Though the Bucs have 13 offensive linemen listed at 300 pounds or more, they have just one defensive player above 300, second-year tackle Akeem Spence (307). Compare that to the Ravens, who have three tackles over 335, and the Jets, who have three over 345.

The Bucs' slimmer look comes as the rest of the NFC South invests in bulk. Carolina started 2013 first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei in every game last season at tackle at 315 pounds. The Saints used a third-round pick last year on 359-pound John Jenkins, and the Falcons gave a $33 million ($14 million guaranteed) free agent deal to veteran Paul Soliai, who weighs 340.

Choosing speed over size appears to be the Bucs' preference. One of the most intriguing names in this summer's supplemental draft is Lakendrick Ross, a tackle who checks in at 6 feet 5, 360 pounds. He played at Virginia-Lynchburg, where the Bucs found undrafted rookie corner Keith Lewis, and has a local agent, Brandon's Glen Lansky.

Just the same, as of Thursday, the Bucs were one of just four teams that hadn't contacted Lansky about Ross, who will work out for scouts Monday and is likely to go to a 3-4 defense as a run-stopper.

GOOD MODEL: It's no coincidence that Bucs rookie WR Mike Evans is working out in Miami with Bears WR Brandon Marshall. Evans (6-5, 231) is often compared to Marshall (6-4, 230), who played for Smith in his final season with the Bears and finished in the NFL's top five in catches, yards and touchdown catches.

Marshall worked with Bucs QB Josh McCown last season, combining with 6-3 Alshon Jeffery for one of the league's best 1-2 receiver combos. And Evans will seek the same "Twin Towers" magic with the 6-5 Vincent Jackson this fall.

NEW LOOK: After Saints star Jimmy Graham lost an arbitration ruling last week in his effort to be franchise-tagged as a receiver for compensation instead of a tight end, Bucs rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins jokingly changed his Twitter bio to say he is a "WR" and not a "TE." Part of the arbitrator's explanation for his decision was that Graham identified himself as a tight end on his Twitter page. Browns star Cameron Jordan, in line for a new contract and with a similar issue as Graham, changed his Twitter bio to "Pro Bowl pass catcher."

Contact Greg Auman at auman@tampabay.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.

Bucs favor speed over size on defense 07/05/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2014 7:50pm]
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