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.)
We continue the series with a look at the defensive tackle position.
Then Versus Now
Last year, the Buccaneers' depth chart in the trenches looked like this:
McCoy led the way, and his presence was already appreciated by Bucs fans, if not by the national media. The concern was at the other tackle spot, as Roy Miller was allowed to walk for free, and Gibson and Landri didn't really spark a lot of excitement as replacements.
It turns out that Spence was actually a pretty good player with his fair share of struggles along the way, but outside of McCoy, the Buccaneers didn't get a lot from the tackle spot in 2013.
The 2014 depth chart looks to change that by adding former Seahawk Clinton McDonald, who will play alongside McCoy and provide a disruptive force as a second "3-tech" in certain situations. Spence returns, and will likely see his fair share of snaps as the team's true "nose tackle" thanks to his size and strength, but the Bucs will look to get McDonald on the field as frequently as possible.
Cummings has been getting rave reviews in camp, and seems to be the ideal undersized-yet-disruptive 3-tech prospect that Lovie Smith likes. Don't be surprised if a couple of the defensive ends kick inside at times, as well, especially if McCoy or McDonald need a breather.
McCoy is a monster, and the only concern moving forward is getting his signature on a contract extension and locking him up for the rest of his prime. He's only going to get better with Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier calling the shots on defense, so the future is bright at the top of the depth chart.
McDonald provides the Bucs with a very good secondary option as an inside pass rusher and disruptor, and seems to have plenty of fuel left in the tank as well. But can he stand up to a full-time schedule at nose tackle, or will the Bucs need to keep a player like Spence at all times to fill in for Clinton in rushing situations?
Either way, the Bucs now have two players at tackle who will cause headaches for opposing quarterbacks, guards, centers and offensive coordinators. Interior pressure can be even more frustrating than outside pressure, as it destroys the pocket that many quarterbacks thrive in, and forces running backs into decisions quicker than they'd normally have to make them.
The 3-tech position is one of the most important in the Lovie Smith defense, and the Bucs have two players who can man that spot at an above-average level. Things are looking good at defensive tackle for the Bucs.
The Buccaneers are much better now than they were at this time last year at defensive tackle. Akeem Spence has a year of experience, and Clinton McDonald provides a lot more than Gibson or Landri could have. And if Lovie Smith can get more out of Gerald McCoy (and he should), this unit will be the best in the league at getting interior pressure.