Over the coming months we'll be going through the different positions on the team, analyzing how they performed last year and what needs to improve for next year. To get a couple of different points of view I've asked the other Bucs Nation writers to contribute for these pieces as well.
This week: Defensive Ends
For years now, the Defensive End position has been a problem for the Bucs. Ever since Simeon Rice left in 2007 the team have been starved of sacks. All defensive ends have combined for 69.5 from 2007 through 2010. For some perspective, the 2006 Chargers had 61 sacks. Their team took one year to nearly match four years worth of production by our defensive ends. That's pretty bad. The Bucs had a total of 116 sacks from all players through that period, which is tied for 6th-worst in the NFL. The other teams: Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Buffalo and Cleveland. Hardly an inspiring list.
Despite that there have been some bright spots for the Bucs at defensive end over the past years. Stylez G. White of Teen Wolf fame had 8 sacks in 2007 and would be the starting right end this year. Tim Crowder was a former second-round pick who had 3.5 sacks from left end in 2009 in very limited time. And second-year player Kyle Moore had shown some physical potential. But despite that, the Bucs were on track to set a record for fewest sakcs in NFL history for a number of games. They turned it around at the end of the season, but the defensive ends didn't play much of a role with Stylez' 4.5 sacks leading the team.
So what went wrong? Mostly, there seemed to be no improvement whatsoever from the year before. Kyle Moore couldn't beat a tight end while pass rushing and still does not have a sack despite playing in 15 games and starting in 7. Tim Crowder looked like a slightly above replacement level player. Stylez got some consistent pressure on the quarterback, but he failed to close the deal often enough. And while these three defensive ends generally looked somewhat decent against the run, the run defense was still poor for most of the year.
There are two somewhat promising defensive ends on the roster. Michael Bennett has a ton of physical talent and flashes great ability sometimes, but he hasn't been able to pair that ability with production. He had one sack in limited time this year, and the same amount last year. Unless he turns his talent into production, he won't make it in the league. He has the talent to make it pretty far though, as evidenced by his two starts at the end of the season which came at the expense of Stylez. Alex Magee is the other promising defensive end. The Bucs traded for him in mid-season. The former third-rounder didn't take long to get on the field, and when Kyle Moore went out with a season-ending injury his playing time increased significantly. He won't ever be a world-beater, but he looked like a solid player who could pressure the quarterback at times.
Of course, there was one big reason why the defensive ends this year didn't have a lot of sacks, and that's the tendency of the Bucs to rush 3 players on 3rd down. I'll go into the results of that strategy in a later post, but suffice to say that rushing 3 players on obvious passing downs severely restricts players' possibilities to rush the passer well. It's something that is overlooked when discussing the results of the pass rush this year, but it played a major role in the limited number of sacks.