Buccaneers' hidden treasure: Defensive line

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Bucs have invested a lot of premium draft picks in their defensive line in recent years, but they haven’t really collected any dividends. This could be the year that changes.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall draft pick in 2010, has been slowed by injuries his first two seasons. But he did show some promise when healthy. The new coaching staff believes McCoy can be a dominant player and cornerstone of this defense. But the obvious key is he needs to stay healthy. If he does, he ideally will line up next to fellow third-year pro Brian Price, who also has dealt with some injury issues. But the Bucs went out and got Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson in the offseason and the hope is to use them in a rotation that can help keep McCoy and Price fresh.

If McCoy and Price finally can blossom, that should provide a tremendous boost for second-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn. He recorded 7.5 sacks as a rookie without much around him. The Bucs believe Clayborn can hit double digits in sacks. The line suffered a big blow when Da’Quan Bowers tore his Achilles tendon in the offseason. At best, Bowers could return around midseason. At worst, he’ll miss the entire season. But this still has a chance to be a decent defensive line because Michael Bennett can start opposite Clayborn.