Today was the start of mandatory minicamps at One Buc Place and the presence of new defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was by far and away the day’s biggest storyline.
He skipped out on voluntary OTAs - to no surprise nor inconvenience - so it was the media’s first real shot at getting some time to spend with the talented defensive end.
Pierre-Paul fielded a ton of questions about different topics and one in particular asked how he felt about returning to Tampa Bay to play football since his college days at USF.
“It means a lot, you know. It means a lot. It’s been nine years. I know everybody’s excited – I’m excited, my family’s excited [that I’m] closer to home. So I’m really pumped. I think this is going to be one of my best years,” Pierre-Paul said right before practice.
It’s exciting to hear those words, considering what Tampa has - or hasn’t - had on defense over the past few years. If he could get even close to replicating his prime playing days then the Bucs will feature a completely new product on defense.
So what does it take for JPP to have “one of his best years”? He’s on a very, very talented and deep defensive line in Tampa Bay that while it may not rival his former championship teammates - it’s at least in the same ballpark as the New York Giants team that he won a Super Bowl with in 2011.
That was by far his best season as he racked up 16.5 sacks - good for a third of the team’s season total of (48).
Since 2013, Gerald McCoy has led the team every year in sacks while the Bucs’ defensive ends have produced an average of just 12 sacks per year. William Gholston led all defensive ends from 2013-2015, maxing out in 2014 with a (73.5) overall grade before Robert Ayers took over for 2016-2017, maxing out last season with a (89.1) overall grade.
Ayers was decent, recording 8.5 sacks in 24 games over those two seasons - but Pierre-Paul brings a much more consistent pass rush to the game and is one of the reasons why Tampa didn’t re-sign Ayers for 2018.
The Bucs added Vinny Curry on the other side to help boost the pressure off the edge and take attention away from JPP. Curry’s former teammate Beau Allen and rookie Vita Vea were also brought in to help out McCoy on the interior.
In fact, everything is set up for this to be one Pierre-Paul’s best years. If that happens, it could be one of Tampa Bay’s best years in quite a while, too.