Over the coming months we'll be going through the different positions on the team, analyzing how they performed last year and what needs to improve for next year. To get a couple of different points of view I've asked the other Bucs Nation writers to contribute for these pieces as well.
This week: Interior Defensive Line
As a whole, this was probably one of the weaker groups overall. Plagued by a terrible start and a injury plagued finish makes it hard to give the IDL a fair evaluation. It's hard for me to deliniate between the poor play of the tackles versus the ends, because much of it goes hand in hand. Gerald McCoy, the 3rd overall draft pick and future of our defense, looked like he was still playing college guards and centers for the first five weeks of the season. He struggled to get his hands on linemen, controlling the blocker. Wash may be successful with veteran players, but for young players making the transition he wasn't able to help them adjust to the strength and speed of NFL offensive lineman. As a result, McCoy failed to learn how to fight against centers and guards blocking down on him. Many times if the Center was blocking McCoy's inside shoulder, he was taken completely out of the play. Where McCoy succeeded was when he was able to use his athleticism to beat blockers one on one. As the season wore on, McCoy improved. I'll be honest, I didn't expect quite a slow start from McCoy, but that was unfair expectations on my part; not necessarily a disappointing start for McCoy.
Obviously, we don't have much to go on when evaluating Brian Price. The question next season will be if Price can use his strength to compliment McCoy. If Price can use up two blockers, it will allow McCoy to do his thing. If he can't, players will continue to attempt to kick out McCoy, and most likely successfully. Roy Miller has a better understanding of offensive schemes. Something that came with an extra year of experience. However, what Miller is awful at is playing with his pad level too high. As are many DT's, Miller is short (6'2) playing against guard and Centers that average at probably 6'5. Maybe his thought is that he already has leverage on them, but I can show you play after play where these 6'6 lineman are getting underneath his pad level and driving him 3 yards off the ball. He has got to learn to play lower and leverage his strength. If he can do that, he can be a very productive Defensive lineman. He's got the strength and drive, he just has to learn to use it properly. Miller did start playing better the last 3 weeks of the season. Okam and Bennett who they used to fill in after McCoy's injury also played decent, but not enough to warrant a starting position or valuable rotation minutes. I don't think any changes are necessary to make with this unit in the offseason. The draft picks have been used to fill the roster. The biggest change will be on the player development and the new Defensive Line coach they bring in. I expect McCoy, Price and Miller all to improve and respond to better coaching.