Once upon a time, the Bucs had the best defensive line in football. Anchored by Warren Sapp and augmented by the likes of Simeon Rice, Greg Spires, Chidi Ahanotu, Brad Culpepper and Booger McFarland through the years, that defensive line was the terror of the NFL and made the best defense in football go. Coached by Rod Marinelli, that defensive line was aggressive, attacking and dangerous. During Marinelli's tenure, the Bucs had more sacks than any other team in the NFL. That defensive line was one of the hardest working units in football. If you're a fan of defensive line play, the Bucs' defensive line at its prime is something you must watch.
The Bucs want to go back to those days of playing aggressive football on defense. The Bucs haven't had a defensive lineman double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice left in 2007. The Bucs have invested an immense amount of high draft picks on this defensive line. The first two picks of the 2010 draft were spent on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, while the first two picks of the 2011 draft were spent on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. In addition, the Bucs spent third- and fourth-round picks in 2009 on DT Roy Miller and DE Kyle Moore, while they also traded for DE Alex Magee last season. All that talent has to come together sooner or later, and the Bucs think they have the people who can do it: Grady Stretz and Keith Millard.
Rod Marinelli has a reputation as one of the best (if not the best) defensive line coaches in the NFL. He was instrumental in turning the Bucs' defensive line into a feared unit, and that's exactly what Millard and Stretz have to do now. Millard certainly has the pedigree to do so, having been a defensive lineman himself and still holding the record for sacks by a defensive tackle in a single season with 18. Millard also has experience coaching defensive lines in the NFL, and did well in Oakland. As for Stretz, well, I know nothing about him. He presided over some quality defensive lines at Arizona State, and is supposed to focus more on run defense than pass rush in Tampa Bay.
The reports from training camp so far are very promising. In the past two years, Todd Wash supposedly taught the Bucs to play responsible football: staying in your gap at all costs and keeping containment was his mantra. With Millard, it's all about shooting a gap and attacking. Defensive linemen are expected to play the run on their way to the quarterback. Disruption is the name of the game. That's the way the Bucs used to play football, and going back to that style of play is exciting.
This new style of play will also allow the Bucs to get the most out of Adrian Clayborn. As I've talked about before, at Iowa Clayborn rarely got the chance to explode on the snap. Instead, he was asked to read and react, and this played a big part in his limited production. He has the ability and talent to do a lot more than he showed at Iowa, but in that scheme he didn't have the chance to really shine as a pass rusher. Millard recognizes this, and will put Clayborn in position to have the biggest impact on the game. "At Iowa, they wanted their guys to play tight to the blockers, but we need Adrian to get outside to use that quickness," Millard told the Tampa Tribune.
But more than just that style of play, it's encouraging to hear how the players talk about Keith Millard. "He's very technical and he does a good job of telling us what it takes to be a good rusher,'' said Michael Bennett to the Tampa Tribune. "It's amazing how much the guy knows in terms of technique,'' said Adrian Clayborn in the same article.
This defensive line has the talent to be a dominant unit, and it seems to have the right coach as well. If that talent manifests itself, the Bucs could have a dominant defensive line once again.