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Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft: Analyzing the defensive ends

How did they get here?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, arguably, have done a subpar job of reloading. Departed starters such as All-Pro Simeon Rice along with Dewayne White and Greg Spires, serviceable if not very good pass-rushers, have yet to be replaced.

Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested the fourth overall pick in 2007 on Gaines Adams, but his development is far from complete. And beyond Gaines Adams, who the team hopes will have a breakout season in the new scheme, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't treated defensive end like the premium position it is.

Greg White, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sack leader in 2007, was a lucky find, plucked from Jay Gruden's Orlando Predators arena league club. The team signed little-known Jimmy Wilkerson last season, and he started to come on late in 2008. So while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have paid a lot of lip service to revitalizing the pass rush, there hasn't been much action.

Who's manning the fort?

Adams will be a fixture at right end for the foreseeable future, if for no other reason than his status as a high pick guarantees it. But there's a sentiment around the building that Adams has what it takes to be great, even though there are times when that looks debatable.

Defensive coordinator Jim Bates has had success bringing out the best in defensive ends, including Jason Taylor during the pair's time in Miami.

The drop-off after Adams is significant. Kevin Carter started at left end last season, but he remains unsigned despite productive talks between the sides.

White's play took a nosedive last season. He seemed to disappear too often, and he proved incapable of playing left end, a position in flux since the aging and injured Spires was cut in spring 2008. Right now, White has to prove he's more than a third-down, situational type of player.

Wilkerson will be in the rotation and took first-team snaps during last month's minicamp. But his progress isn't enough to end the search for more quarterback pressure.

What are they looking for?

In a word, play-makers. They'll need to be stout against the run, though the linebackers will be more involved under Bates.

There will be a premium on getting to quarterbacks because of plans for extensive use of bump-and-run coverage in the secondary. Consistent pressure from the ends also is important because it likely won't come from the tackles as designed to under Monte Kiffin.

Whereas in the Tampa 2 the tackles penetrated the gaps, the idea now is for them to occupy blockers and allow the ends to do the penetrating.

Who fits the bill?

There are a plethora of options. It's, perhaps, the deepest defensive group in this draft. And unlike the tackles on the board at pick No. 19, the chances a very good end falls to the Bucs is very good. We could see a situation similar to cornerback in last year's draft. The Bucs knew they would get a play-making corner if they just waited. And sure enough, Aqib Talib fell to them.

Similarly, five defensive ends could go in the first round this year. Of those available when the Bucs pick, Florida State's Everette Brown is an intriguing possibility. Whether he can play left end is a question, but don't rule out Adams moving to the left if the Bucs find a legitimate threat on the right. If trading down (and picking up a second-round pick) is in the cards, the Bucs could act on their expressed interest in Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson in the second round.

Penn State's Aaron Maybin and Tennessee's Robert Ayers would be great values at No. 19, but there seems to be universal agreement they'll be gone by then. Then again, if there are a couple of detours early in the day, the Bucs could get lucky.

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft: Analyzing the defensive ends 04/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 24, 2009 8:26am]

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