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Buccaneers roster breakdown: Did Tampa Bay improve at defensive end?

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NFL: New England Patriots at New York Giants Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster position by position to see whether they improved the team compared to last year. Today: defensive end.

2015 roster: George Johnson, Jacquies Smith, William Gholston, Howard Jones, Ryan Delaire, Kourtnei Brown.

2016 roster: Robert Ayers, Jacquies Smith, Noah Spence, William Gholston, Howard Jones, Cliff Matthews, Channing Ward, Kourtnei Brown.

In 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did far too little at defensive end. They cut Michael Johnson to save cash, which they then didn’t spend on any new edge rusher. The only player they brought in was George Johnson, a player they had cut two years before and, while he had shown some talent, hadn’t done nearly enough to warrant being the sole addition at that position for a team that desperately needed pass rush.

Predictably, George Johnson disappointed and the Bucs couldn’t put together a consistent pass rush. They did get some production out of Jacquies Smith (7 sacks in 12 games) and former undrafted free agent Howard Jones (5 sacks in 12 games), but neither really produced any pressure outside of those 17 plays. With Gerald McCoy limited by various injuries throughout the year, the Bucs just couldn’t do anything — and that was a big reason for Lovie Smith’s firing.

This offseason, Jason Licht invested a little more heavily in the most important defensive position in the game. They signed Robert Ayers, who should also boost their inside pass rush in specific situations, and drafted Noah Spence — arguably the best pure pass rusher in the draft, fallen to the second round because of some off-field concerns. The Bucs are convinced he’s going to be very good, and won’t get into trouble outside work.

The Bucs are comfortably better at defensive end than last year, but the question is whether they improved enough. That’ll depend on how quickly Spence adjusts to the NFL, whether Howard Jones and Jacquies Smith stay healthy and continue to develop, and whether Robert Ayers can keep up his production for one more year, or whether he’ll be yet another failed free agent signing at the position.