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Tom Jones' Two Cents: Tampa Bay Bucs' pass rush just a gaping hole on defense

It’s unlikely many opposing quarterbacks lose sleep over Bucs Gerald McCoy, left, and Adrian Clayborn.
It’s unlikely many opposing quarterbacks lose sleep over Bucs Gerald McCoy, left, and Adrian Clayborn.
Published Aug. 9, 2012

Excited about the Bucs? Optimistic about new coach Greg Schiano? Encouraged the team is on the right track?

Sorry, but can we hit the pause button just for a moment?

While the Bucs loaded up on offense in the offseason, it was the defense that was the chief culprit in last season's 4-12 nightmare. And they did not address the weakest link on that broken chain of a defense: the pass rush.

Two seasons ago, the Bucs recorded only 26 sacks and somehow they were even more feeble last season with a league-low 23. Now get ready for the really bad news: The pass rush might be even worse this season.

Here are five reasons you should really be concerned about the Bucs' pass rush in 2012.

The stars have yet to be stars

Let's start with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. This isn't a guy plucked off the waiver wire or some undrafted free agent out of IDidn'tKnowTheyHadAFootballTeam A&M. We're talking about the third overall pick in the 2010 draft. Third overall picks are supposed to be beasts. They're supposed to be monsters. They're supposed to be difference-makers, game-changers, the type of player you build a defense around.

When McCoy (right) was drafted out of Oklahoma, a few folks even had him rated higher than the second overall pick that year, Ndamukong Suh, who has 14 sacks in 30 games with the Lions.

Know how many sacks McCoy has had? Four, in 19 career starts. He played only six games last season, and we should cut him some slack for being in the middle of a crummy defense. He isn't exactly anchoring the '85 Bears or '76 Steelers. And I suppose we need to recognize that he is playing for his second head coach, second defensive coordinator and third position coach, all in just his third season.

"Change is always hard,'' McCoy said, "but I'm used to it.''

Used to it? Maybe. Thriving despite it? Not really. Not like a No. 3 overall pick should. Not like a guy who signed a five-year, $63 million contract.

Then there's defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. He's sidelined with a torn Achilles tendon and, no matter what anyone says, will be a long shot to play this season. The Bucs knew full well Bowers was a high-risk pick because of injury questions. In fact, it's why he went from being a projected high first-rounder to the 51st overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Still, his nation-best 15½ sacks at Clemson in 2010 had Tampa Bay dreaming he could stay on the field long enough to be a sack machine in the league. He played all 16 games last season and even made six starts, but he recorded only 1½ sacks.

The rest isn't exactly the best

What do the Bucs have after Gerald McCoy on the defensive line?

Well, there's defensive end Adrian Clayborn (top). Actually, he's the best hope when it comes to chasing opposing quarterbacks. He led the team with 7½ sacks last season. There's defensive end Michael Bennett (middle), who has six career sacks in 34 games, and defensive tackle Roy Miller (bottom), who has three in 47.

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On paper, the defensive line figures to be worse than last year, when the team finished dead last in the NFL with only 23 sacks. (Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had 22 all by himself.) Worse, because defensive end Da'Quan Bowers will have little, if any, impact this season. Worse, because the team parted ways with 2010 second-round pick Brian Price.

Oh, about getting rid of Price: What were the Bucs thinking?

The defensive tackle has issues. I get that. For the moment, he had become unreliable physically and emotionally, partly because of off-the-field tragedies. He scuffled with teammate Mark Barron because Barron was sitting in the wrong chair. That's not normal behavior.

Perhaps the team grew tired of the drama. Maybe coach Greg Schiano wanted no more distractions or problems. But unless there was something more behind the scenes that we don't know about, Price didn't seem so far gone that he couldn't be salvaged. He's only 23, for goodness sakes, way too young and talented to give up on, especially for a team that could really use young and talented.

The Bucs did go out and get tackles Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson, but both have missed time with injuries during camp.

Don't count on coverage sacks

There's no reason to believe the secondary is so good that it can cover receivers long enough for coverage sacks. Rookie strong safety Mark Barron has never started an NFL game. Ronde Barber has started plenty of NFL games, but not one at free safety, where he is expected to play this season.

At corner, Eric Wright is going to have to prove he is an effective cover man before he can be called an effective cover man. For my money, Aqib Talib is the best football player on the team, assuming he can stay out of taxicabs, off the injury list and on the field. But he can't cover everyone by himself.

No other help

Not all quarterback pressure has to come from the D-line. The linebackers can chip in. Just think of Dallas' DeMarcus Ware or Baltimore's Terrell Suggs or San Francisco's Aldon Smith. But the Bucs don't have a Ware or a Suggs. What they have is a Quincy Black and a Mason Foster (above). They combined for two sacks last season, both by Foster. They also have Lavonte David, a rookie. Don't expect any help from the linebackers when it comes to pressuring the quarterback.

The schedule is loaded with superstar QBs

Maybe the team could get by with a subpar pass rush if it had a schedule of subpar quarterbacks. That's not the case. Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton are each on the schedule twice. Then there's (starting from top left) Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick and Sam Bradford. That's 12 of 16 games against what you would consider good to elite NFL quarterbacks, and that doesn't include Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III.

The Bucs will go into that murderers' row of a schedule with an unproven-at-best pass rush unless something changes in the next few weeks.

"We're always looking outside,'' coach Greg Schiano said. "I believe in that. We're always looking to see if you can make things better.''

From the looks of things, it doesn't appear as if it can get much worse.


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