Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here.
"I just played (crappy), completely. That's just being real," the Bucs defensive end said last week. "There's no excuse for it. It was awful, crappy. If I said it once, I said it a million times: It was a (crappy) year. I openly admit to it."
Gholston had just landed a lucrative extension with the Bucs, and after making about $3.7 million total in his first four NFL seasons, he earned $7 million in 2017 in the first year of a five-year, $27.5 million contract.
All over, his stats were down: Zero sacks, and after three straight seasons with at least eight tackles for loss, he had just four, along with his fewest total tackles since his rookie year in 2013.
The Bucs defensive line, dealing with multiple injuries, struggled against the run (which had been one of Gholston's strengths) and finished last in the league with 22 sacks. Ask him if he's moved on from that disappointing season, and the 26-year-old says he can't.
"It's something you can't not think about," Gholston said. "When you play football, you can see and feel it. It's not a good image to have in your head."
The Bucs could have walked away after only one year on the new deal and cut him without any salary-cap consequences. Despite sweeping change on the line, adding five new contributors via free agency, trading and the draft, Gholston is back, and eager to show he's not the same player in 2018.
"I feel like I'm a totally different person than I was last year, to be honest," he said. "My whole approach and mentality was completely different from what it is now."
That includes physical change. Gholston is listed at 281 pounds on the Bucs' roster, but he said his weight got to over 300 pounds last year, and not in a good way.
"Biggest I was, I was in the 3(00)s, for sure. It got to the 3(00)s and it was all bad weight," Gholston said. "I dropped down coming into camp, but I came in out of shape last year … I didn't want to be bad big, too much body fat."
Midway through offseason drills late last month, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter had already seen a difference in him.
"We thought he got too heavy last year," Koetter said. "He agreed, and he did a really good job of slimming it down. He looks good out there."
Asked about his current weight, Gholston said "in the (2)70s, teetering to (2)80s here and there."
"I think it was a great suggestion," he said. "It was the best thing for me, mentally, physically and emotionally. You can't be fat."
Gholston had 13 tackles in the Bucs' first two games last season, then had no more than four in any game the rest of the way, even as several players were sidelined with injury. Gholston himself missed two games with a neck injury in November.
He played the fewest snaps he's had since his rookie year, and while the Bucs cut Robert Ayers and didn't re-sign Ryan Russell, they upgraded by trading for Jason Pierre-Paul and signing Vinny Curry, who plays much the same game as Gholston as a versatile run-stopper. Playing time won't be easy to come by.
The Bucs kept Gholston knowing he was due to make $6.5 million in 2018, and his contract gets more team-friendly next year, with the salary dropping to a more reasonable $3.75 million in 2019. He's battling for his longterm future with the team now but said he likes the way the new defensive line has come together going into training camp.
"The one thing I can say that's different is the mentality of the approach," he said. "We came together, the guys who returned and the guys who came in and joined collectively and tried to jell and build that trust. We all have the same mindset though, to go out there and get it."