If you thought the intent behind the Bucs' initial few picks in last week's NFL Draft was to intensify the team's dormant pass rush, you would be only partially right.
Yes, the Bucs certainly accomplished that in drafting proven pass rushers Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers and Mason Foster in the first three rounds.
But they also did some something that has been much less noted: Improved the run defense.
Anyone who paid close attention to the Bucs in 2010 knows the run defense needed about as much attention as the pass rush. The Bucs, statistically, had the fifth-worst run defense in the NFL last season, allowing 131.7 yards per game.
That total includes some impressive individual performances against Tampa Bay. Rashard Mendenhall of the Steelers ran for 143 yards in Week 3, Cedric Benson of the Bengals ran for 144 in Week 5, Chris Ivory of the Saints ran for 158 in Week 6 and Ryan Torain of the Redskins ran for 172 in Week 14. With the Saints adding former Heisman winner Mark Ingram and with Atlanta's rushing attack among the more potent in the NFL, the Bucs will be regularly challenged by ground games in their own division, the NFC South.
So, the fact that defending the run is a strength of Clayborn, Bowers and Foster bodes well for the Bucs.
Clayborn might not be the flashy edge rusher some fans long for, but he is a complete player who is as much about toughness as he is about chasing quarterbacks. His size and demeanor will serve him well in defending the run.
Bowers, assuming he has a successful recovery from knee surgery, could provide a big boost at left defensive end, too. The Bucs haven't had a reliable run stopper on the left side of the defensive line since players like Greg Spires and Kevin Carter lined up there. Bowers has some of the traits those players possessed.
Foster, a linebacker who the Bucs intend to play in the middle, was a solid edge rusher at the University of Washington but combines that with great tackling ability that the Bucs hope he'll continue in Tampa Bay. His college film features his willingness to take on blockers and sniff out the football in traffic, qualities that are keys to defending the run.
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 the Bucs were also considering their run defense all along.
Keep all this in mind if these players don't immediately put up the kind of sack numbers you were hoping for. Of course, there is another number the Bucs are hoping they impact significantly: yards per carry.
Posted by Stephen Holder at 11:13:00 am on May 05, 2011