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Buccaneers relying on unknowns to improve at defensive end

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We're examining every Tampa Bay Buccaneers position to see if the team improved. Today: defensive end.

2014 roster: Michael Johnson, Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers, Larry English, T.J. Fatinikun, Jacquies Smith, William Gholston, Lawrence Sidbury

2015 roster: George Johnson, Jacquies Smith, T.J. Fatinikun, William Gholston, Larry English, Lawrence Sidbury, George Uko, Jamal Young, Ryan Delaire

At the start of last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expected Michael Johnson and Adrian Clayborn to lead their group of defensive ends. At the end of last season, the two best defensive ends on the roster were Jacquies Smith and T.J. Fatinikun. It's funny how things work out.

Johnson was an obvious bust, though that was in part due to the way the Buccaneers used him -- he was a versatile, athletic puzzle-piece in Cincinnati, but the Bucs expected him to be a dynamic edge rusher in a single role. Meanwhile, Clayborn missed almost the entire season with injury. That forced the Bucs to turn to a slew of backups and waiver-wire pickups -- and that actually produced some results, with Smith's 6.5 sacks being the most obvious positive note. Overall, though, the defensive ends were incredibly disappointing.

That's going to have to change this year, and most of that change is going to have come from the further development of the team's existing pass rushers. The only real addition to the roster at defensive end has been George Johnson, who the Bucs managed to finagle away from the Detroit Lions after his own six-sack "breakout" season. Again: further development is needed even with Johnson.

The good news is that Smith, Fatinikun and Johnson all showed a lot of positive traits to build on last year. All three were explosive, disruptive and even productive given their limited roles and snaps. This year, though, they're not situational pass rushers in part-time roles: they're going to have to carry the edge rush. And that's a whole other task.

One reason to be a little optimistic is that the Bucs are going to have to have a wide-open competition in training camp. No one's going to be gifted a job, simply because the team's not really committed to any player aside from Johnson -- and even he's easily set aside, given that the commitment level isn't really that high. Competition should allow the best players to come to the surface, rather than getting the team in a situation where they're starting