How did they get here?
It's a complicated question. But really, this position hasn't been a strength for several years. And at this point, the whole mission to find the next Warren Sapp can be dismissed as a futile exercise.
From Booger McFarland to Ellis Wyms to Jovan Haye, the Bucs and former coordinator Monte Kiffin have had a parade of serviceable players at defensive tackle but have yet to find a dominant mainstay.
Haye was consistent but is a poor fit for the scheme new coordinator Jim Bates will employ. Haye ranked second on the team with six sacks in 2007, but he was ineffective while playing through injuries last season. With the Bucs choosing to look elsewhere, he signed a four-year, $16 million contract with Tennessee in March.
Part of the problem is since selecting McFarland in the first round in 1999, the Bucs haven't invested anything higher than a fourth-round pick on an interior defensive lineman. Dre Moore, a fourth-rounder last year, spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad.
Who's manning the fort?
There are a number of bodies, but if you're looking for a wealth of proven talent, the Bucs are thin. Veteran Chris Hovan returns, but his role isn't clear and won't be for a while. Depending on the personnel, he could play a complementary role.
"At defensive tackle, can the guy still penetrate instead of being a plugger?" GM Mark Dominik said. "Yes, it just depends."
Beyond Hovan, there's the re-signed Ryan Sims and recent draft picks, Moore and 2007 fifth-rounder Greg Peterson (who has appeared in 12 games over two seasons). Sims, at 6 feet 4, 315 pounds, is the prototypical Bates tackle. But can he make a significant leap in the new system after being simply a role player in the Tampa 2?
Who are they looking for?
Dominik stressed the team won't adhere to any hard-and-fast profile. But Bates' history tells us a little about his ideal candidate: He likes bulk.
Under Kiffin's system, there was an emphasis on "gap integrity." Tackles were asked to penetrate gaps between the interior offensive linemen, hoping to disrupt the play with speed. Bates' system often calls for defensive tackles to line up directly across from offensive linemen, making power and size more important. Still, the Bucs feel like they have some flexibility.
"Coach Bates has had success with both (types)," Dominik said. "When you go back and look at Miami (where Bates was defensive coordinator) and you say who were their defensive tackles? They had (Tim) Bowens and (Daryl) Gardner, big-bodied defensive tackles. And they were successful. Then he went to Green Bay and had one big body. Again, he put up statistics."
But Dominik admits if there is a change in the makeup of the linemen in 2009, it likely will be in terms of size: "You can see the defensive tackles can be a bigger-bodied guy."
Who fits the bill?
The guy who fits the profile almost perfectly is Boston College's B.J. Raji. There's just one problem: He figures to be the first defensive tackle off the board, gone long before the Bucs pick.
Coincidentally, a nice fallback might be his teammate, Ron Brace, who possesses similar mass (330 pounds) and would be an attractive option in the second round if the Bucs trade down (they don't have a second-round pick). Missouri's Ziggy Hood has the power the Bucs seek and also can collapse the pocket (five sacks in 2008).
There are some intriguing mid and late-round possibilities such as 326-pound Chris Baker, a former Penn State player who ended up at Hampton after his dismissal. Remember, the Bucs could opt for a player who doesn't necessarily fit the profile but is a tremendous prospect. But to give themselves the best chance at thriving in the new scheme, they know full well they need the personnel.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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6-7, 378 The height and weight of Henderson State (Ark.) guard Louis West. No, those are not typos.