Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs hope to bulk up pass rush

TAMPA — Among the life-sized sculptures inside One Buc Place are those of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice. But on the field, the Bucs don't have anybody resembling a sack artist.

In each of the past five seasons, Tampa Bay failed to total 30 sacks as a team. In 2012, its 27 were tied for the third fewest in the NFL. The Bucs were 32nd and last in 2011 with 23, tied for 30th in 2010 with 26, tied for 26th in 2009 with 28 and tied for 20th in 2008 with 29.

No Buc has recorded double-digit sacks since Rice's 14 in 2005.

If you're looking for one reason why the Bucs have missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, the lack of quarterback pressure is a good place to start.

Even though the secondary gave up the league's most passing yards last season, it can be argued the weaker link was the defensive line.

To make matters worse, the Bucs' top sackmaster last season, DE Michael Bennett with nine, signed with Seattle as a free agent.

The Bucs took steps to rebuild the back end of their defense, trading for CB Darrelle Revis, signing S Dashon Goldson and using a second-round draft pick on Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks.

It's not that the line is devoid of talent or pedigree. DT Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, went to the Pro Bowl last season. DE Adrian Clayborn, who led the club in sacks as a rookie in 2011 with 71/2, was a first-round pick. DE Da'Quan Bowers led the nation in sacks in his final season at Clemson before being drafted in the second round in 2011.

But Clayborn missed 13 games last season with a torn ligament in his right knee, and Bowers missed the first eight with a torn right Achilles. The Bucs also must replace starting NT Roy Miller, who signed with Jacksonville as a free agent

However, McCoy remains optimistic the Bucs will have an improved pass rush this season.

"The pace and the level we're at as far as our mind-set, things we've gotten accomplished, are far beyond last year," McCoy said. "And we don't even have all our guys out there."

BREAKOUT BUCS: Three defensive players who need breakout seasons this year:

• Bowers: As a rookie, he was limited while the Bucs waited for his knee, injured while at Clemson, to gain strength. Last season it was the Achilles torn in May. If Bowers can stay out of the trainer's room, he can make an impact with his natural pass rush skills. He has added significant upper-body strength while getting into better shape. The problem is Bowers has never been counted on as an every-down player. He must learn to cope with nagging injuries and be more stout against the run.

"He has not played any consistent amount," coach Greg Schiano said. "So if he wants to become anything more than just a situational pass rusher, he's got to grind through it. He's got to go through the pain of being an every-down player."

• LB Mason Foster: The Bucs took away Foster's responsibility of calling plays and gave it to rookie Lavonte David last season. He slimmed down and played much faster last season, his second in the middle. But he has been a liability in pass coverage, which forces the Bucs to take him off the field. As Foster becomes more familiar with the defensive system, he will play faster and make bigger plays.

• S Mark Barron: As a rookie last season, Barron made a huge impact but hit the wall around Week 12. He struggled in coverage and had only one interception. At times he played a bit out of position. Barron's strength is playing down in the box on run support. That role was taken primarily by Ronde Barber on passing downs a year ago. Now that Barber is retired and Goldson takes over at free safety, Barron should have a bigger impact in 2013.

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