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Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely look for pass rushers in NFL draft to complement Gerald McCoy

TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, celebrated his selection by the Bucs at Radio City Music Hall by putting a big bear hug on commissioner Roger Goodell.

But McCoy rarely got as close to opposing quarterbacks, going nine games without a sack and finishing his rookie season with only three after missing the final month with a torn left biceps.

So McCoy might have turned the Twitterverse on its axis when he proclaimed this last week:

"Made two bold statements today. Bucs playoffs and Gerald double digit sacks!! Time to work for it!! Success never comes before work!! Yessir."

How bold was McCoy's tweet?

After finishing 10-6 in 2010, the Bucs were only a tiebreaker from reaching the playoffs. And McCoy, who signed a five-year, $63 million deal, showed signs of improvement before the injury.

But the truth is that no Buc has reached double-digit sacks in a season since Simeon Rice had 14 in 2005. To put that in perspective, 20 players had 10 or more sacks in the NFL last season, and an average of 16 per year have accomplished the feat since Rice did with the Bucs.

As fate would have it, the 2011 draft is seeping with pass-rushing defensive ends who can root out blockers on their way to planting the quarterback.

After tying for 30th out of 32 teams with 26 sacks, the Bucs' biggest need in the draft is for a pass rusher, preferably a defensive end or outside linebacker who can come off the edge and draw double-teams from McCoy.

No wonder nearly every mock draft has the Bucs taking a defensive end with the 20th overall pick Thursday.

"I would say I don't disagree with that, but it doesn't mean that's what our first pick is going to be," general manager Mark Dominik said. "So when we have our draft-day party over at the stadium and if our first pick isn't defensive end, it doesn't mean we can't ever get to the quarterback again. So I would just say certainly we're aware of it."

Since taking over as GM two years ago, Dominik has flipped the roster.

Not only are the Bucs the league's youngest team, but Dominik has solidified the future with picks like quarterback Josh Freeman. A year ago, he got two defensive tackles, following his pick of McCoy with UCLA's Brian Price in the second round.

What Dominik and the rest of the NFL knew was 2011 would be a great year for defensive ends. As many as a dozen pass rushers could go in the first round.

Players such as Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, North Carolina's Robert Quinn, Missouri's Aldon Smith and California's Cameron Jordan could be off the board before the Bucs select.

But even if those players are gone, it leaves the possibility for Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan (a team captain and three-year starter who led the nation with 26 tackles for loss and had 121/2 sacks) or Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, who led the nation with 151/2 sacks.

Bowers, who is recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee, reportedly has failed physicals for a few teams. But if healthy, he is considered a top-five talent.

Dominik is likely to draft more than one pass rusher, perhaps even a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker who specializes in getting after the quarterback. For later rounds, Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore, who led the Pac-10 in sacks, has caught the Bucs' eye.

"I've got a certain group of traits I look for in our defensive ends and defensive linemen that I think will play out, and I hope it gives us a competitive advantage on that position," Dominik said, "because it is a tough position to draft, historically."

Nowhere is that more true than in Tampa Bay. The Bucs' first pick in the 1976 draft was Lee Roy Selmon, the franchise's lone Hall of Fame player. And defensive tackle Warren Sapp (961/2 career sacks), the club's first-round pick in '95, is sure to join him in Canton, Ohio.

The rest is a virtual roll call of first-round flops such as Booker Reese, Ron Holmes, Keith McCants, Eric Curry and Gaines Adams. Holmes produced an eight-sack season in '87, McCants and Curry never had more than five in any season, and Adams, who died of a heart attack at age 26 in 2010 after being traded to the Bears, had 61/2 in 2008.

When it comes to pass rushers, the Bucs have been style over substance. Defensive end Stylez G. White has led them in sacks three of the past four seasons but never with more than eight.

That's why the Bucs hired two defensive line coaches — former Vikings defensive tackle Keith Millard (58 sacks in nine seasons), who will be in charge of the pass rush, and Arizona State's Grady Stretz, who will focus on stopping the run.

"There's got to be a better coaching effort on my part, better schemes on my part and more accountability from our D-line," coach Raheem Morris said. "We don't point fingers. We find ways to get better. We've got two new D-line coaches looking to see how we can make our players better."

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay says the Bucs won't have to move up in the first round to select an elite pass rusher.

"From Aldon Smith, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, (Iowa's) Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, there are just so many defensive ends in this class, that I don't think you have to," McShay said last week in a conference call. "Maybe if you see the run start and you've targeted a player you make the move, but one of those ends has to fall to them at No. 20."

And maybe — just maybe — one of them is able to put more than a few bear hugs on the opposing quarterback.

NFL draft

When: Thursday (Round 1),

Friday (Rounds 2-3) and

Saturday (Rounds 4-7)

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Feel-good stories await

There are several draft prospects who have overcome obstacles to get close to their NFL dreams. 2C

Pouncey, Part II

Florida grad Mike Pouncey wants to match (or perhaps surpass) his twin brother's draft spot. 3C

Defensive line

• Top college prospects

• The Bucs' situation

Coverage, 3C

Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely look for pass rushers in NFL draft to complement Gerald McCoy 04/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 23, 2011 8:15pm]
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