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Bucs could boost pass rush with upgrade at tackle

Gerald McCoy, chasing Giants quarterback Eli Manning, is a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle but has had little help on the interior in what has been an anemic Bucs pass rush.
Published Apr. 17, 2016

Bucs GM Jason Licht watched the video of the Broncos' 24-10 win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 twice from start to finish. What stood out to everyone was the impact made by DE Von Miller, the game's most valuable player, who had 2½ sacks and forced two fumbles. DE DeMarcus Ware added two fumbles as the Broncos defense collapsed on Panthers QB Cam Newton.

Less obvious — and what stood out to Licht — was the domination inside by DTs Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams. That's what created all those one-on-one rush opportunities for Miller and Ware as Newton was forced to move out of the pocket.

Much of the Bucs' focus in the April 28-30 NFL draft is rightfully on the defensive side of the football. Their most glaring need is for an outside speed rusher, but they helped address that through free agency with the signing of Giants DE Robert Ayers.

But consider the defensive tackle position. Gerald McCoy is a four-time Pro Bowl player who gets little help inside. Clinton McDonald missed most of 2015 with a torn pectoral muscle. Akeem Spence, who is in the final year of his contract, is more of a two-down player. That's basically it.

The lesson for Licht is that a good pass rush can be generated from any defensive line position.

"You can, and the goal defensively is always to affect the quarterback," Licht said. "You usually think of the front four doing that, but there's other ways of doing it. If you really like watching, I know it's just one game, but if you watched the Super Bowl last year — Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware had their share of success there, but really the interior pressure had a big, big effect on that game, so there are other ways to do it. We all want a great defensive end, or two, or three, but sometimes it just doesn't work out that way."

There is no shortage of defensive linemen in the NFL draft, and rush ends such as Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Oregon's DeForest Buckner may be off the board before the Bucs select No. 9 overall. The Bucs also have had visits with Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence and Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah.

But defensive tackles such as Louisville's Sheldon Rankins and Mississippi's Robert Nkemdiche are intriguing prospects. The Bucs' pass rush must get better, but more than one solution could be found in the draft.

LONG AND SHORT OF IT: Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey is among the top five players in the draft. The next defensive back off the board will likely be Florida's Vernon Hargreaves, who is only 5-10 with an arm length of about 31 inches.

But Licht says he has no trouble with Hargreaves' lack of size. "I like good football players, I like strong football players," Licht said. "I like playmakers. No, I'm not concerned."

HELP FROM J-ROD: One of the real blockbuster trades in the NFL was pulled off by new Titans GM Jon Robinson, who got a busload of draft picks from the Rams for the No. 1 overall pick. Robinson, plucked by Licht to be the Bucs' director of player personnel the past two seasons, may have done his former boss a favor. The Titans weren't taking a QB, and now they've moved behind Tampa Bay at No. 15, leaving another defensive player on the board for the Bucs.

Could the Rams' deal with the Titans help the Bucs?

"Yeah, it could, but it's all ifs, ands and buts still at this point," Licht said. "The draft never works out exactly — you could do a hundred mocks and it never works out the exact way you put it down, that you guess."

SIGNED ON THE DOT-TED LINE? Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says Demar Dotson will begin training camp as the starter at RT with Gosder Cherilus backing him up.

"That was our plan last year. Gosder wasn't on the team yet, but our plan was to have Dot at right tackle," Koetter said. "Due to injury, it didn't work out that way. Gosder came in, and it was well worth what we spent to get him in last year. He's excellent in the locker room and he played well when we needed him to play. That's where we'll start this spring."

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