TAMPA — The Bucs wrapped up their minicamp and offseason Thursday with high spirits and hopes. With a revamped roster, players expressed optimism about the chances for improvement after going 4-12 in 2011.
The sunny outlook even applied to the defensive line.
Last season, the Bucs ranked last in the NFL with 23 sacks. Yet they believe this season will be vastly different — even with largely the same personnel.
How, exactly, have they arrived at that conclusion? Put simply, the Bucs are counting heavily on better fortune when it comes to injuries.
"We have the talent. Everybody can get to the quarterback," defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "It's just a matter of everybody being on the field."
No unit has had more misfortune with injuries than the defensive line.
Starting tackles Gerald McCoy (13) and Brian Price (12) have combined to miss 25 games over their first two seasons. Starting left end Da'Quan Bowers is expected to miss this season with a torn right Achilles tendon.
"That's a huge loss," coach Greg Schiano said of Bowers. "Of course you move on and fill in, but he was set to have a huge year."
And Price has been rehabbing his pelvic issues in Southern California.
Schiano regards pressuring quarterbacks as paramount in his scheme, so don't expect him to be satisfied with last season's inconsistent rush.
But the Bucs will be counting on, essentially, the same lineup to produce that pressure. While Tampa Bay created a stir in free agency by signing Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright to contracts potentially worth about $140 million, none play defensive line.
Improvement is likely if McCoy can stay on the field. He has landed on injured reserve in both of his seasons, tearing his right and left biceps, respectively, while missing 13 games. He was drafted third overall to be the centerpiece of the line and has shown flashes of dominance.
"(The injuries) make me play harder," McCoy said. "It's nothing but motivation."
One guy who has avoided injuries is Clayborn, last season's first-round pick and the team's leading sacker with 7½. Can he make a significant progression in Year 2? It's possible, especially because he likely won't face the dreaded rookie wall he now admits he hit.
"I think I started off good, and the body starts wearing down," said Clayborn, who played 16 games a year after playing 13 at Iowa. "I was trying to deny it, but it definitely hit."
If the Bucs do suffer injuries along the defensive line, they at least will be better prepared. The offseason signings of reserve tackles Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson give them better depth. McCoy's injury in November prompted the team to claim tackle Albert Haynesworth (cut loose by two teams earlier in the season) off waivers.
If all else fails, Schiano has his ways of producing pressure. One of the trademarks at Rutgers was extensive use of blitzes.
"I don't think you want to ever be totally reliant on your down-four (linemen) because no matter how good you are, there will come a day when (the offense) will block it up and you better be good enough at blitzing," he said. "But you don't want to ever be totally reliant on blitzing because otherwise you leave yourself susceptible to some other things. So our thing has always been (having) a good mix.
"But I think we have some guys who can get after the quarterback."
Just so long as they manage to stay on the field.