It is no secret that Tampa's defense needs an overhaul, but one area that doesn't need much change is the defensive line. With five players chosen in the first three rounds of the past three drafts, Tampa has invested heavily in the position. Add in players like Bennet and Haynesworth, and the Bucs have plenty of talent along the line. With a full offseason of work, the D-line could turn into a real strength for Tampa Bay. So who would be the most likely to start along the line in 2012?
Tampa had a tough year in 2011. From poor offensive production to a porous defense, nothing really went right for the Bucs. But if there is any area of the team that needs a major improvement, it's the defense. So, how difficult will it be for Tampa to field a quality defense in 2012? It may not be as hard as some think. Hit the jump to see why.
If I had to guess, I'd say Clayborn and McCoy are safe bets at right end and the three technique, respectively. Price seems to have little competition at nose, save for maybe Roy Miller. The really interesting position to watch will be left end. Bennet has shown he is a talented rusher, but Bowers played well at the end of the season. This will be a camp battle that may come down to who plays the run best, as both players have proven to excel at the pass rush. Either way, look for Clayborn, Price, McCoy, and Bowers/Bennet to improve as a unit, and prove to be a strength for this team.
At linebacker, things get a little more messy. None of the three starters from last season impressed, and all three will have to prove they can get the job done to hold on to starting spots next year, provided they even make the team. Of the three, Foster should get the most leeway, as last year was his first as a starting linebacker, and he ultimately disappointed the least.
Geno Hayes may be in the most danger of losing not only his starting job, but also his roster spot. In a contract year, he under preformed, was benched, and returned to the lineup only to under perform some more. He will have to do a lot to show he deserves to make this team. Black is no better off than Hayes, except that his contract has not expired, thanks to his shiny new (undeserved) contract. Don't be surprised if the Bucs cut him, or attempt to rework his contract to better suit his output.
Ultimately, the linebacking core could see the most turnover. Expect Foster to stay, but possibly move to the weak side, where he played his best ball in college. If the Bucs have a chance to nab a starting quality MLB in free agency or the 2nd round of the draft, Fosters chance of sliding over to the weak side becomes much more likely. In any scenario, I would expect Dakota Watson to take over the strong side. He would give the Bucs a Sam that has the potential to rush the edge, and given coach Shiano's more blitz happy defensive tendencies, Watsons rushing talent could be a welcome change at Sam. My bet for the starting lineup, for whats its worth, would be on: Foster - Will, A FA/2nd rounder - Mike, Watson - Sam.
The Secondary may be the Bucs weakest link on defense. Talib may be in jail or suspended by April, and Ronde may have played his last down as a Buc. That leaves Biggers, Lewis, Mack and Gaitor as the only CBs on the roster. That is a huge problem, no matter how good the rest of the defense preforms. I fully expect our first round pick to be a corner to help fix this weakness. Claiborn is the most popular pick among Bucs fans at the corner spot, but if he is gone by the 5th pick, the Bucs may consider moving down to get Kirkpatrick or Jenkins. Also, expect Tampa to go after a Finnegan or Grimes in free agency.
At saftey, the Bucs may have more talent the their 2011 play would suggest. Jackson could still factor into the starting FS position. With an offseason of work, he should return to form, provided he relearns how to tackle. At the SS spot, expect Grimm to push for the starting role, provided he can stay healthy. Jones should not be back, and Grimm is the only proven starting quality saftey left to push for the spot. Grimm was a former linebacker in college, meaning he could preform well as a SS playing up in the box against teams with potent run games, and is a more natural fit at SS than at FS. While Tampa could go after another safety in FA or the draft, the needs at Corner, Linebacker and the Oline may cause them to spend the picks, and money, elsewhere. Expect Tanard and Grimm back as the starting safeties, while our corners could both be new additions the the team.
While the defense has a long way to go, it may not need to many more pieces, but rather, better coaching to bring out the potential in this young defense.