As training camp rolls along, one of the positions in focus for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is defensive tackle. This is primarily because the Bucs drafted two DT’s with their first choices in April’s draft. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, both first team All-Americans in their final year at the collegiate level, are now assigned to become major contributors on a rebuilding franchise. Both will most likely be starters in week one, with Roy Miller and Ryan Simsrotating in and out. The question is however, what can we expect from the two in terms of production? Defensive tackle is one of the hardest positions to have an impact from as a rookie, and with the unit as a whole struggling in 2009, is it unfair to expect a great deal from either?
Although college production is often irrelevant when attempting to project a professional career, both McCoy and Price enjoyed successful spells at their respective universities. One positive sign is that both faced NFL quality offenses in the Big 12 and Pac-10 respectively, and produced quite well. Making the next step will be quite difficult for both however. They will have to make the difficult transition from facing college offensive lines to taking on grown men who will often be bigger and stronger than they are. This is one of the major reasons why tackles struggle in their rookie years, and it will be interesting to follow as they go forward how they adjust to the new level of competition.
Defining a successful season for a rookie defensive tackle is also difficult. Any traditional stats can be thrown aside, like tackles and sacks, because not only is each system different in what they expect their DT’s to do, the DE’s and the Linebackers reap the statistical rewards for what the tackles do in any system. In the case of the Buccaneers Tampa-2 scheme, Price appears to be the space eater who uses his size and strength on running plays, while McCoy will be the "three-technique" DT who will seek to cause havoc in the backfield on every passing down. This should (in theory) set both on the path for success, because putting players in positions to succeed based on their skill sets is just as important as possessing the talent to do so. This is the philosophy of the Cover-2 in general, as each position has a specific responsibility that requires a specific skill set.
What does this mean for the 2010 Bucs? It’s hard to envision either dominating right away, which will probably prevent any major improvement on a macro level. However if they progress and make strides performing their specific assignments, then there should be reason for optimism going forward. The D-line is crucial for long term success in the Tampa-2. and both Price and McCoy will play a major role in the success or failure of the unit in future seasons. Hopefully these are two building blocks that are strong enough to make up the foundation of the rebuilding process that is currently being undertaken.