TAMPA — William Gholston was inactive for four of the Bucs' first five games, totaled a single tackle in September and the same in October as he adjusted in the first half of his first NFL season.
Much like his team, however, Gholston has found a spark in the past month. The rookie from Michigan State, a towering presence at 6 feet 6, 281 pounds, has shown versatility and promise on the defensive line both as an outside presence and a tackle on third-down packages.
"In practice, in one-on-one pass rush, I've seen him take some of our starters and just throw them into what would be the quarterback," rookie defensive tackle Akeem Spence said of Gholston. "We all know what he can do. It's a matter of him tapping into his inner self and doing it on a consistent basis. He's not your average human being. He's very explosive, and you don't see that every day."
Gholston, after totaling six tackles in an emerging November, had three in Sunday's loss at Carolina. He showed his wide range of skills, including a tackle of receiver Steve Smith 16 yards downfield and a pair of stops inside the Bucs 5.
"Versatility does help him. Will Gholston is a big man. He's a strong man. He plays hard. He can run," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "He's got all the physical attributes you look for. We're kind of just shoving him out there. There's no better way to learn than under fire. He's responding well. You don't keep doing that if he doesn't respond."
Gholston left the Spartans after his junior year and was taken in the fourth round in April. He said something clicked for him in Tampa Bay's first win, against Miami on Nov. 11, when he shared in his first sack in the final defensive stand.
"It's a drastic change. I can decipher so much more of our game plan; not necessarily the plays, but the why and when we're going to run them," the 22-year-old said Thursday. "I can make more plays, knowing what to do."
On first and second down, Gholston is a "five technique," an end who lines up across from the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle. He likes shifting inside as part of the third-down package, where his strength holds up, his speed can be a factor and he can learn from an interior standout such as Gerald McCoy.
"That's why we drafted him. He's a prototypical … five technique; big, long-armed guy, very physical at the point, can push the pocket," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "The best thing he's doing is he can really push guys back. He's not a real flashy, shake-and-bake, try-to-beat-you-on-the-edge guy. But he can really get his shoulder pads down and push a guy back into the quarterback. He's been a good draft pick for us. He's going to end up being a very, very good player."
In the past three games, Gholston has averaged 36 snaps, more than starting end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Defensive ends have not been productive for the Bucs with starter Adrian Clayborn (four) the only one with more than one sack. Whether it's outside or inside, Gholston likes the way the game is slowing down for him, and he is eager to help wherever needed.
"I just know I'm a defensive lineman," he said. "I'm really critical of myself, my game play. I feel like I need to make more plays. I feel like I need to do better. I feel like I'm a utility guy. I'm someone they can throw in if somebody's down, if somebody's tired and needs a blow, I can come in at multiple positions. I'm glad the coaches see the same thing in me."