There's been a lot of rumors, speculation, and analysis to consider while approaching this year's draft. With that, I will be looking at what I, and many others, believe to be the number one priority to making this year's team a playoff contender- the pass defense.
With the worst passing defense in the NFL last year (and one of the worst in history), Coach Schiano has expressed his philosophy as to what needs to be done to improve it. He has said that in order to be able to defend the pass effectively, two things are needed and must work in concert- pass rush and coverage. Without one, it is difficult to find success with the other. With the FO working to address the later in FA, bringing in 2 time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson, attempting to trade for arguably the best shut down corner (when healthy) in the NFL, the restructuring of struggling starter Eric Wright's contract, along with the development of second year corner Leonard Johnson (who showed flashes of playmaking ability, but also reminders that he was an undrafted free agent), the team would be amiss not to entertain the possibility of upgrading our pass rush with the offseason losses of last years starters DT Roy Miller and DE Michael Bennett. Albeit injured Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers are expected to return and reclaim the starting positions at the edge, Pro Bowler Gerald Mccoy will assume the three technique, and potential rotational players Gary Gibson and Derek Landri at NT, one could conclude the need to improve on the D-line is the lesser evil. I would argue the contrary.
Greg Schiano brought with him a fundamental defensive scheme change to remedy what plagued the Bucs in prior years- protect against the run by having the front four open lanes for the linebackers to attack through. Within his scheme he has introduced (not new in football) a "tilted" nose tackle. This position is key to effectively stopping the run and helps the pass rush through its design. The "tilted" nose has the ability to attack either A gap from his stance and is a position, when executed properly, that commands a double team in order to protect the center from a bullrush right through the earhole. Miller played this position and had a career year as a run stopper, but had negligible effect in the pass rush. With the duties of the titled nose briefly explained for the run, it is very similar to the pass. Executed properly, it must command the double team to enable the opposite tackle to have a one-on-one situation and a better chance to get to the quarterback. With the lack of push up the middle by Miller, McCoy was constantly double teamed and only registered 5 sacks and couldn't produce up to the level he is well capable of. Although Miller played well, I don't think he played well enough to warrant "starter" money and be retained by the team, and I believe the coaching staff was well aware of that and knew that they could upgrade.
People will argue that NT is not a highly regarded position in this defense and that we have players that can fill the position "good enough", I will argue that it is the keystone of this defensive scheme and the necessary piece that should be filled in the draft. We should look at someone that can create a push and not just hold the line. I believe that if this position is filled with a high value draft pick, GMC's sack total (along with the team's) will significantly increase, the secondary will record more interceptions and they will need less time to hold coverage downfield. I will not be surprised when the Bucs are on the clock, that they turn a card in with a Defensive Tackle's name on it.
-- "I thought the best way to play…is to get a great rush…if you can rush and pressure and force off-target throws, I always felt that was the best pass defense.” -Tony Dungy