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Tampa Bay Buccaneers believe draft picks will bolster their pass rush, run defense

TAMPA — You've heard the Bucs tout their pass rush and how much they believe it improved as a result of the NFL draft.

And if first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, second-round choice Da'Quan Bowers and even third-rounder Mason Foster live up to expectations, that theory will be proved true.

But those selections improved this team in another respect, and this will be evidenced by the expected improvement in Tampa Bay's run defense.

You can't discuss this trio without noting the fact that each player has proved to be effective against the run. That's something the Bucs undoubtedly welcome.

Anyone who watched the Bucs in 2010 saw their vulnerability against the run. You could argue the run defense needed as much attention as the pass rush. Although progress was offset by the season-ending injury to DT Gerald McCoy in Week 14, the Bucs, statistically, had the NFL's fifth-worst run defense last season, allowing 131.7 yards per game.

That total includes some impressive individual performances against Tampa Bay, such as New Orleans' Chris Ivory and his 158 yards and the Redskins' Ryan Torain running wild for 172. And consider: The Saints added former Heisman winner Mark Ingram, and Atlanta's rushing attack is among the NFL's most potent. Rest assured, the Bucs will be regularly challenged by the ground games in the NFC South.

Enter Clayborn, Bowers and Foster. On paper, the Bucs will be better at stopping the run with them onboard.

Clayborn, a defensive end, might not be the flashy edge rusher some fans crave, but he is a complete player who is as much about toughness as he is chasing quarterbacks. His size and demeanor will serve him well in defending the run.

Bowers, presuming he has a successful recovery from knee surgery, could provide a boost at left defensive end, too. The Bucs haven't had a consistent run stopper on the left side of the line since the days of Greg Spires and Kevin Carter. Bowers has some of their traits.

Foster, a linebacker the Bucs intend to play in the middle, was a solid edge rusher at Washington but is also sure-handed. His college highlights feature a willingness to take on blockers and sniff out the ball in traffic, qualities that are key to defending the run.

Another hint at the Bucs' thinking: Notice that each of these players is on the bigger side compared to their counterparts. Bowers and Clayborn are 280 pounds-plus, bigger than the ends the Bucs have typically employed (255 to 275). Foster is a legitimate 245, bigger than Barrett Ruud's generous official listing of 241.

"We've talked about getting bigger," coach Raheem Morris concedes.

The Bucs got lots of credit for improving their pass rush in this draft. But it's hard to scrutinize these choices and not come away thinking they were also considering their run defense all along.

COLLEGE FREE AGENTS: The usual flurry of undrafted free agents is on hold until the league is officially back in business and transactions can be conducted, but expect the Bucs to scour the market, as usual, for some gems whenever the time comes.

As for positions they might concentrate on, keep an eye on offensive line, quarterback and receiver. Those are positions the Bucs did not address in the draft and, given their emphasis on competition, they'll want to add some intrigue to those units during training camp.

The Bucs have consistently uncovered finds among the undrafted. In the past couple of seasons, they have had success with RBs Kareem Huggins, LeGarrette Blount and WR Preston Parker, to name a few.

GIDDY GAITOR: If Morris knows nothing else, he knows defensive backs. In the past two years, the Bucs have identified CB E.J. Biggers and S Cody Grimm in the seventh round, each going on to become important cogs.

So, you should pay attention when Morris says he likes CB Anthony Gaitor, the seventh-round choice from Florida International. Morris was only more sold on Gaitor after the player's response to the coach's phone call on draft day.

"I thought we had another first-round selection," Morris said. "I thought it was the first pick of the draft … with the emotion, the excitement. Bringing that guy in our building (for a predraft visit), he was electric.

"I asked him what round his agent was telling him he would go in, he said: 'Man, I don't care! I just want to come here, Coach!' That's the kind of player I think you're going to get."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers believe draft picks will bolster their pass rush, run defense 05/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 8:15pm]
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