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William Gholston will be key for Buccaneers vs. Panthers

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing some massive injury issues along the defensive line. Robert Ayers, Gerald McCoy, Noah Spence and Clinton McDonald all missed today’s practice and are unlikely to suit up against the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.

One player who will be key for the Bucs in replacing them is William Gholston. The defensive lineman has long been one of the team’s best pure run defenders, easily winning against tight ends and offensive tackles in the running game. But on passing downs, he’s had a tendency to disappear — especially when he’s lined up at his natural defensive end position. That’s why he has just 7.5 sacks in his four-year career of 47 games.

To compensate for Gholston’s pass-rush deficiencies, the Bucs have taken to playing him at defensive tackle on some passing downs, but he’s usually simply off the field on those plays. With as many as four defensive linemen out against the Panthers, though, the Bucs will likely need him to play a lot more than he usually does.

It’s fortunate, then, that Gholston is coming off arguably the best game in his career.

“I thought Will had his best game that I’ve seen and I’ve watched all of his games from last season,” defensive coordinator Mike Smith said today. “He was very aggressive, not only in defending the run, but he was really getting off the ball and rushing the quarterback. I think he can be a force, he’s a big, strong man [and] when he understands how to use his leverage and use his long arms, he’s going to be a guy that can put pressure on the quarterback.”

The problem is, of course, that Gholston has shown no such ability for years on end — but he has certainly started to flash more this season, especially on the inside. He’s going to have to do more than just flash if the Bucs want to beat the Panthers, though — both at defensive tackle, where he’s likely to play a significant role replacing McDonald and McCoy, and on the outside, when he lines up there.