Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Front seven remains a concern for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA

The Bucs are rightfully being hailed for a $140.5 million spending spree for WR Vincent Jackson, G Carl Nicks and CB Eric Wright. They will help the passing game, running game and pass defense.

But the weak link last season was the defensive front seven, which contributed to allowing 156.1 rushing yards per game and 26 rushing touchdowns.

Specifically, the linebackers were subpar, to say the least, and injuries on the line only exposed the problem.

There has been a lot of talk by the Bucs about possibly moving Mason Foster from middle linebacker, which remains an option. And it's true they have shown interest in Falcons free agent Curtis Lofton, who has visited the Saints.

But GM Mark Dominik said he is now focused on the draft.

How can the Bucs be content at linebacker?

The truth is, they're not. Lofton has received minimal interest because it's believed he priced himself out of the market. With every free agent signing period, there is a dizzying rush of mega-deals for a few worthy stars. Then things settle down.

The Bucs remain approximately $20 mil­­lion under the salary cap. But coach Greg Schiano and his staff haven't seen Foster on the field. They haven't had a chance to see how he could function at middle linebacker in the scheme of defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and certainly haven't evaluated fellow LBs Dekoda Watson or Quincy Black.

As a new coach, Schiano gets an extra minicamp, which the Bucs will hold before the draft.

"Certainly, we have some players who will have the opportunity to see what they can do at certain positions," Dominik said. "I know we're talking to the team about Mason Foster being the (middle) linebacker. And I think the coaching staff that has been in here evaluating that tape feels like he has a great opportunity to (call the defensive signals)."

To be fair, Foster was put in a difficult situation as a rookie coming off the lockout, with no offseason to prepare, being asked to not only perform his job, but be responsible for calling the signals.

He'll have to learn another system under Schiano, but at least he has experience under his belt and an offseason to improve.

That said, expect the Bucs to sign a veteran middle linebacker in free agency at some point to give them the option of moving Foster.

Barber update: The Bucs have invited CB Ronde Barber to return for a 16th season, but he says he needs more time to decide.

How does the signing of Wright affect his plans? It won't.

Wright is outstanding in coverage, but Barber is a tougher run defender and might win the job if allowed to compete. The Bucs will monitor CB Aqib Talib's trial, which starts March 26 and should be over prior to the draft. But a cornerback likely will be among their picks.

The word is Barber wants to play. Determining his role — and his salary — might take a little more time before he can make a decision.

No worries: The Bucs say they did plenty of research on Jackson, who has two convictions for driving under the influence since 2006. His blood alcohol level for his last arrest, in 2009, was .17, double the limit at which California presumes impairment.

Dominik said the Bucs are convinced the arrests are behind him.

"I'd say production speaks volumes," Dominik said. "Obviously, the guy has been a 1,000-yard receiver every time he's played. Certainly, he had a … situation there in San Diego. And certainly, we're aware of that and we dug into that very deep before we made the decision because we felt it was important.

"But certainly, we felt the time, what's happened, his punishment, what he's done, how he's responded over the last few years spoke volumes to us."

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