Buccaneers Inventory: The Front Seven

Much like the months leading up to the 2014 NFL Season, a lot of worry seems to be centered around the offense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s plenty of hype and high expectations for Jaboo and the Boys, but it’s not a guarantee that Leslie Frazier’s defense automatically steps into a Top 10 level of play. There’s no denying the talent of Buccaneer mainstays like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, but last year (see the Thursday Night Catastrophe) proved that it takes much more than two stars to keep an opposing offense at bay. Rotation will be key, and there’s no question that Tampa Bay will continue to scour the waiver wire until opening day. It all starts with the front seven, so let’s see the Bucs currently have backing up their key players.

Defensive Tackle
Currently In Stock: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Henry Melton, Akeem Spence, Quayshawne Buckley, Caushaud Lyons
Hot Commodity: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Henry Melton
Due to Expire: Akeem Spence, Quayshawne Buckley, Caushaud Lyons
Product Notes: Do I really need to explain to anyone what the cornerstone of this line is? His name is Gerald McCoy, and he’s the undisputed King of the Three Technique. If you don’t know #93, please begin searching for a 2015 bandwagon. Beside the King is the often unappreciated Knight that is Clinton McDonald. McDonald flew a bit under the radar in 2014, but that’s because there were plenty of problems overwhelming that radar. His play was more than sufficient, and it will continue to be this year. Rotationally, Akeem Spence will be trying once again to live up to his expectations. Spence isn’t horrendous, but he could easily be outshone by new blood if he doesn’t step up his game.

The most notable fresh body is that of Henry Melton. Melton spent last season on a Dallas Cowboys team that knew a lot more about winning than the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and along with that experience he brings an understanding of Leslie Frazier’s defensive scheme. Unless Spence steps up, Henry Melton should be able to solidify himself as an important piece of a complicated defense that will look to be in a constant state of flux within games.

Quayshawne Buckley comes in heralded as an athletically-gifted three technique, and he couldn’t have a better role model to be learning behind in Gerald McCoy. Caushaud Lyons will, like Buckley, be dealing with a steep learning curve compared to their college experience. Despite this, both have shown promise enough to be picked up by Tampa. There is a small chance one of them could knock Spence off the roster, but more than likely Spence’s experience will help him perform just well enough to nestle in at the back of the depth chart.

Defensive End
Currently In Stock: George Johnson, Jacquies Smith, Larry English, William Gholston, T.J. Fatinikun, Ryan Delaire, Lawrence Sidbury, George Uko, Jamal Young
Hot Commodity: George Johnson, Jacquies Smith, Larry English
Due to Expire: William Gholston, T.J. Fatinikun, Ryan Delaire, Lawrence Sidbury, George Uko, Jamal Young
Product Notes: No defensive position has faced more scrutiny so far than this one. Much of this hinges on the horrendous excuse for professional football that Michael Johnson produced in 2014. “Edge rush” has become an essential part of the vocabulary of any informed Bucs fan, and with good reason. The most notable acquisition in this realm was a key trade for veteran George Johnson.

Johnson has never been a fear-inducing starter, but he’s had respectable results and will look to step up once again to anchor the outside. The most key names coming from last year are easily Jacquies Smith and Larry English. Smith currently looks like the most likely man to be starting across from Johnson, but nothing is set in stone. Both were turning heads in 2014, and expect that to continue.

As for the rest of the stock at defensive end, nothing is really mouth-watering. However, there is one phrase that can wrap up Fatinikun, Gholston, Delaire, Sidbury, Uko, and Young into a neat little bow. “Athletic with potential.” There you have it. Tampa has three good defensive ends, and six that may not even make the roster. Now do you understand why everyone is talking about them?

Currently In Stock: Lavonte David, Danny Lansanah, Kwon Alexander, Bruce Carter, Quinton Alston, Larry Dean, Khaseem Greene, Josh Keyes, Jared Koster, Orie Lemon, Jason Williams
Hot Commodity: Lavonte David, Danny Lansanah, Kwon Alexander, Bruce Carter
Due to Expire: Quinton Alston, Larry Dean, Khaseem Greene, Josh Keyes, Jared Koster, Orie Lemon, Jason Williams
Product Notes: Much like defensive tackle, it’s pretty clear who rules the roost at linebacker. For a comparison point, I’m going to turn to the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t have anything against Luke Kuechly, except for the fact that he’s not as good as Lavonte David. Kuechly had more of a team to work with, and therefore slid into his recognition quite easily. David has constantly been fighting an uphill battle in that regard, but he’s as good as he’s ever been. Along side David, Lovie Smith has filled in lots of athletic, versatile options at linebacker.

Danny Lansanah had a solid season in 2014, but he’ll have stiff competition and could be beat out for a starting position. The Buccaneers used a fourth-round choice to make the first defensive draft pick of the Lovie-Licht Connection in Kwon Alexander. Alexander is…wait for it. Come on, you know this one. Got it? That’s right! He’s athletic! It’s not difficult to see Lovie’s plan, but only time will tell exactly how these pieces fit together. Alexander can easily become a key rotational player, and he’ll be fighting for that opportunity alongside former Dallas Cowboy Bruce Carter. Carter should make an immediate impact, and could be someone uproot Danny Lansanah.

Ready for the “athletic with potential” section? It may seem like I’m not putting much thought into the rest of the group, but the point in which you need to pay attention to them will be training camp. Players like Larry English and Jacquies Smith earned their way into being mainstays, and any of the other men fighting at linebacker could do the same thing. They could, but it won’t be clear until much later. More than likely, expect some of the names here to challenge for starting positions on special teams. Athleticism, versatility, and work ethic will be key for them.

The upside to the front end of the Buccaneers’ defense is that there are plenty of playmakers. The downside, or the potential downside, could prove to be the depth each position has. Tampa Bay will continue to shop the open market for additional playmakers, but the groundwork is mostly in place. Keep in mind that much of the struggle last season was adjusting to a drastically different defensive scheme than what many of the team had been working with in prior years. As the season went on, they continued to gel together more and more. With a decent amount of returning starters, that process shouldn’t take quite as long in 2015. This Friday, I’ll be closing out this full inventory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by looking at the secondary and the often unappreciated men of special teams.