Only a few defenses were as poor as Tampa Bay in defending the run in 2009. But to their credit, the Bucs attacked the problem head on with the drafting of Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their first two selections. Both youngsters are fine prospects -- especially McCoy -- but defensive tackles can take time to mature as they adjust to the NFL, and until we see glimpses of improvement, I have to say that the Bucs’ run defense is a weakness.
McCoy is a tremendous fit in this Tampa 2 scheme. He is extremely explosive and has the makings of a wonderful upfield disruptor. Price also is impressively physically, but is more suited for the one-technique role. He has more girth and should be able to handle the interior run a little better. But both players are very promising and you have to commend the Buccaneers for being so proactive in their approach to correcting this problem. Surely, playmaking middle linebacker Barrett Ruud is excited about the two rookies’ arrival, but again, how much of an impact will these two youngsters have right out of the starting gate?
Tampa Bay also used a third-round pick in the 2009 draft on Roy Miller. Miller better fits the Price mold than the McCoy mold, but he found out last season that transitioning to the NFL isn’t a walk in the park. Ideally, he progresses in Year 2 and rotates into the game with regularity. I could see that happening, especially because he reportedly lost some weight to better fit this system. While the position could be a liability in 2010, it probably won’t be long before these three youngsters are the envy of the league at defensive tackle.
Dre Moore is yet another talented, young defensive tackle. He too has yet to excel since entering the league, but he could be primed to at least take a step forward. These four youngsters should give Bucs fans an awful lot of hope at defensive tackle, but the production just hasn’t been there as of yet.
Ryan Sims started every game last season, but in doing so proved once again that he was not worth the very high selection that Kansas City used on him. He is a depth player at best.
But defensive tackle is not the only problem spot with Tampa’s run defense. Stylez White is one of the more underrated players in this league and was excellent at one end spot in 2009. That level of play should continue, but he will soon be getting a reputation, and without anyone formidable at the other end spot, opposing offenses will concentrate more on slowing him down both as a run defender and especially as a pass-rusher.
This brings us to the combination of Tim Crowder and Kyle Moore. Like the tackles on the roster, these two have some upside and could improve, but overall, they are good-sized base ends who just do not have enough dynamic playmaking ability to make much of a difference. Although this is especially true from a pass-rushing standpoint, their run-stopping prowess is far from overwhelming either.
In the Tampa 2 system, speed at linebacker is preferred over bulk. That makes the defensive line extremely important. As teams like Indianapolis have shown, you don’t have to be massive up front to be potent, but there must be threatening defensive linemen to help free up the faster linebackers. Along with Ruud, Tampa has two little-known outside linebackers in Geno Hayes and Quincy Black. Both are excellent young playmakers, and if the youngsters up front can progress as the Bucs hope, Hayes and Black will be household names before long.
Tampa Bay’s run defense should be better in 2010. It almost has to be. And obviously the franchise dedicated serious resources to its improvement. But until I see it, run defense has to be considered a weakness, and I worry that massive improvement will not come overnight.