Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For Bucs, defense seems to be NFL draft priority

TAMPA — Kwon Alexander is the only defensive player drafted by the Bucs the past two seasons, a steal in the fourth round from LSU who was the team's second-leading tackler as a rookie.

"I'm an athletic guy, and I might look small," Alexander said, "but I'll hit you."

The Bucs are looking to hit on a few more defensive players like Alexander in this year's draft (April 28-30).

According to various reports, the players the Bucs have either worked out or who met with the team for interviews include Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.

"We've spent a lot of time on defensive players in this year's draft, whether bringing them in or working them out," Licht said during a predraft news conference Thursday.

"It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to draft a defensive player at No. 9 or wherever we are in the first round. We did some things in free agency that gave us some flexibility. We want to still strive. We have several needs on this team. We want to get better, there's no getting around that. But we still strive to pick players where best available and need intersect."

Defensive end and pass rusher would seem to be among the Bucs' biggest needs and they should be able to address one of the needs if they elect to make a selection with the No. 9 overall pick.

"The way I assess it is it is what it is," Licht said. 'You have to work around it. There's a lot of good players in this draft. We have to prepare to take a player there, we have to prepare a situation of moving back and we have to prepare a situation where we're enticed to move up.

"This is a very good draft, the more we dig into it, the more meetings we have, the more tape we watch. It's very deep at certain positions — a lot of positions. There's a lot of good players to be picked and here we are, we're ready to do it."

A year ago, the Bucs netted four starters from the draft — quarterback Jameis Winston, left tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet and Alexander. That's why Licht says it's important to target good players throughout all three days of the draft.

"There's also the flashy players, people know about, but there's always the deep tracks on an album that you don't know about now, but some day you're going to know like Kwon Alexander," Licht said. "We want to hit the right one, so we're doing a lot of work on those guys."

It's still unclear what special requirements the Bucs will have for players in the new system under defensive coordinator Mike Smith. The changes won't be major, Licht said, but it's clear they would like more that have Alexander's mentality.

"There's little modifications in every defense that some coordinators or defensive staffs, head coaches, maybe stress one position over another or a certain type of player whether it's size, or whether it's a certain skill set that a certain position has, that they stress over another," Licht said.

"We're still looking for really good football players at the end of the day. I know it sounds vanilla, but from my chair, from our scouts, we're looking for great football players that have a great mind-set and have what we call the 'Buc Mentality.' "

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