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Mike Smith sees "15 or 16" starters on Buccaneers defense

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made some of their coaches available to the media today, which led to a few interesting quotes -- though most of it was fairly predictable. One line stood out to me, and that was Mike Smith talking about his defense, via Scott Smith. He said that first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves will train as an outside cornerback and in the slot, noting that teams spend more time in their nickel defense than in their "base" defense. The more interesting quote was that the team will likely see 15 or 16 defensive players as "starters".

The entire concept of starters and a "base" defense is increasingly questionable in today's NFL. Teams spend the majority of their time with five defensive backs and six "front-seven" players on the field, and most defensive lines feature heavy rotations with pass-rush and run-defense specialists. We can expect the same for the Bucs this year.

As an example, the team's defense against run-heavy packages may well feature a defensive line with William Gholston, Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Robert Ayers -- a big group of linemen who are all outstanding against the run. On obvious passing downs, it's more likely to feature Noah Spence, Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers (at defensive tackle) and Jacquies Smith -- a group of lighter players who are outstanding rushing the passer.

Similarly, depending on the exact group of receivers and tight ends an opposing offense fields, the Bucs may give Keith Tandy or even Ryan Smith some playing time over Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald, or a slot cornerback -- Tandy was mostly a red-zone specialist last season, for instance.

None of this is particularly new: Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith all did similar things. But it still gives us an idea of what to expect next year.