The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new coach, a new GM, and have spread a new sense of optimism with a lot of fans, who believe the team is better now than it was under Greg Schiano. And while a change in coaching will certainly help the Bucs take a step forward in the upcoming season, is the roster in better shape than it was under Schiano, Mark Dominik and company?
This series will take a position-by-position look at the roster in Tampa Bay, and consider if the Bucs are better off now than they were just under a year ago at this time. (For consistency purposes, I have used the OurLads 2013 depth chart from June 1st, 2013 as a basis for last year's roster.)
Let's start with the defense and consider the state of the defensive end position.
Then Versus Now
At this time last year, the Buccaneers looked a bit like this at defensive end:
Would Clayborn and Bowers finally be healthy and play together for a full season in Greg Schiano's aggressive defense? That was the hope for optimistic Bucs fans last year, and for fairly legitimate reasons.
However, things didn't quite pan out that way, as Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would leapfrog into a starting spot and provide no production whatsoever, while Clayborn failed to provide consistent pressure.
Fast forward a year, and there's a big shakeup at the top of the totem pole, as the Bucs spent most of their "Darrelle Revis" money on Michael Johnson, a dynamic athlete at the defensive end position. He "replaces" Te'o-Nesheim as a starting defensive end, and that adds more depth as Clayborn, Bowers, Gholston and Means will fight for the other starting spot, or provide depth if they fail to win the job.
There's been a lot of hype surrounding Gholston this offseason, and there's good reason to believe that he'll see the field this year. Bowers, on the other hand, seems to be in a perpetual dog house, and has struggled to snag headlines this summer. But neither are likely to trump Clayborn for the starting spot across from Johnson, meaning they'll get their chances situationally.
The addition of Johnson secures the right defensive end position for the next few years, as the Bucs have a known quantity with the ability to disrupt offenses under contract for the foreseeable future. The long-term question that must be asked is if the left defensive end of the future is on the roster.
Clayborn and Gholston are probably the best candidates for being the future of the position, but both have their fair share of concerns. Clayborn didn't seem the same coming off of his injury from a couple years ago, and was never a truly consistent disruptor. Gholston is a freak of an athlete, but that didn't seem to translate directly onto the field as a rookie. Can he harness his incredible physical profile into being a good defensive end?
Either way, there's a better than 50/50 shot that one of the two settles into the job for the Bucs, and for the sake of the salary cap, they're probably hoping that it's the mid-round rookie Gholston. That leaves Bowers and Means as rotational pass rush substitutes, something that would seem to suit both of them pretty well.
Getting rid of Te'o-Nesheim and truly upgrading the RDE spot makes the outlook at this position a lot better, as the Bucs now have a double-team worthy threat on the outside as well as on the inside in Gerald McCoy. This will provide countless headaches for offenses, just like Johnson and his Bengal teammate Geno Atkins did in the AFC North.
I don't think there's anything to debate here. The Buccaneers upgraded the defensive end position in a big way this offseason, and did so without sacrificing any depth at all. It's a win-win situation at this position on paper, with good reason to believe it will pan out on the field.