Bucs Nation’s Evan Winter touched briefly on a topic that seems to have escaped the frontline for most Bucs fans in his Training Camp Pressure Points piece in which he brings up William Gholston potentially being a casualty with another down year in Tampa Bay. Gholston hasn’t ever developed into a pass rush threat despite playing alongside one of the premier tackles in the league in Gerald McCoy. The size and length Gholston came into the league with was thought to lead to some potential advances in his pass rush ability once he got into the league and it just hasn’t fabricated. Five seasons into his career, Gholston has amassed only 10 total sacks, including zero a season ago for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What’s the deal? Can it be fixed and where should fans expect to see Gholston as the season progresses.
Currently Gholston is somewhat of the odd man out with the team’s newest additions of Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul. Noah Spence being healthy and hopefully ready to put together a full season’s worth of work in also doesn’t bode particularly well for Gholston having a turnaround year. In seasons past, Gholston’s ability to move inside helped get and keep him on the field but new additions of Beau Allen and Vita Vea should see a decline in those snaps as well for Gholston. The defensive staff has stated that they would like to see a healthy rotation given the new additions to the defensive front and while this may help in keeping guys fresh, for a run stuffer like Gholston it could prove detrimental to his overall purpose and place on this football team.
Productivity wise, the last two years haven’t been what the Buccaneers wanted out of Gholston. After a below average rookie season, Gholston put together two well rounded seasons in his sophomore and junior campaigns in the league. Finding a niche as a run stuffer, Gholston proved to be worthy of a spot and played well enough to get him a second contract. The team took a gamble that Gholston’s final year on his rookie deal, a season that saw him struggle to produce consistently and earned him a poor (48.6) rating per Pro Football Focus, was an aberration. As 2017 showed, it may be the overall norm to an extent as Gholston produced a worse season both statistically and rating wise (47.5) from Pro Football Focus. Of qualified edge defenders, Gholston’s ranking earned him 101st overall.
What has caused Gholston’s decline? On the surface it would seem that the Buccaneers are contempt with moving to a 3-4 scheme after the additions of Curry, Pierre-Paul and Noah Spence in recent years. All players who can make the conversion to stand up pass rushers. The tell tale sign may well have been Vita Vea’s addition in the first round of the draft this season. At a quick glance, more 3-4 should mean more of a potential impact for William Gholston. Gholston can set the edge as an end in a 3-4 where his length and strength fair better than outside as a pass rusher. In recent seasons the Buccaneers have moved him inside on passing downs and have let him work the edge in early downs when he’s on the field. While his height and weight measure up to a 4-3 end, his lack of burst off the edge, quickness at the snap and below average closing speed have kept him from making a jump as a pass rusher. One may say his decline in play is in part a side effect of the team asking more of him. In years one to three, Gholston was a run stopper. He made the occasional sack in the backfield but ultimately he had one job and he was solid at it, hold the edge and play the run. As a front office and coaching staff may expect, Gholston should have developed more before the team decided to rely on him full time as a starting caliber end. This has proved to be a downfall for Gholston. Now, should the team make the switch to 3-4, Gholston may just find himself a steady run stopping position here in Tampa Bay once again.
Fans should keep an eye on what the defense looks like in training camp and the pre-season. While we should expect to see vanilla concepts as a whole until the regular season kicks off, the team may tip their hand a bit with so many new pieces and relatively little on field time to get it together. If the Buccaneers don’t move to a more 3-4 prominent attack on defense I would expect to see Gholston hit the open market as a cap casualty upon the season’s completely while we head into the next off-season. Gholston’s $13.5 million in guarantees may end up all for naught if he can’t turn it around. That said, if Gholston can be utilized to the best of his abilities, alongside Beau Allen and Vita Vea, the Buccaneers should have a very good line-up of run stuffers to keep opposing backs at bay. Look for Gholston to be fighting for snaps this pre-season and may we hope it brings out the beast in him. As always, Go Bucs!