Buccaneers are gambling at defensive end

Jacquies Smith was Tampa Bay's most productive pass-rusher in 2014, collecting 6.5 sacks. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Leslie Frazier was asked last week who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting defensive ends are, he said he didn’t know.

The defensive coordinator wasn’t being coy. He simply was being honest. The Bucs really don’t know who will start at defensive end. They have a bunch of guys they think can play, but none of them really is proven.

“We need a little bit more time with them and just see if the cream rises to the top,’’ Frazier said.

It’s a risky position to be in. With Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Henry Melton, the Bucs have one of the league’s best pass-rushing interiors. If the outside pass rush is even decent, Tampa Bay could have a very good defensive line and that will provide a big boost for the linebackers and secondary.

But there are no guarantees. There are just a bunch of guys with potential. That was a conscious decision by the Bucs. After Michael Johnson flopped as a high-priced free agent last year, the Bucs elected not to spend big on a free-agent defensive end or draft one in the early rounds.

For better or worse, they’re going with what they have. That’s a collection of guys who may or may not be good enough to get the job done. But the Bucs feel good about what they do have.

Jacquies Smith might be the closest thing the Bucs have to a favorite to start at defensive end. The journeyman came out of nowhere last year and ended up recording 6.5 sacks.

The other early favorite to start is George Johnson. He was acquired in a trade with Detroit. Johnson had 6.0 sacks for the Lions last year, but those are the only sacks of his career.

If Smith and Johnson don’t end up as the starters, it probably means that someone else has stepped up. The Bucs have four other candidates they like, but none of them is proven.

Larry English is a former first-round pick by San Diego. He struggled with the Chargers, but showed some promise as a backup for the Bucs last season. T.J. Fatinikun also did some good things as a backup. The Bucs also like William Gholston, who also has the versatility to play inside. Lawrence Sidbury was a late-season pickup and the Bucs liked what they saw.

The Bucs could have brought in a proven pass-rusher. They chose not to. They’re going with what they have and that’s a gamble.

If they get some production from the collection of defensive ends, the Bucs are going to look very smart and they could have one of the league’s better defenses. If they don’t get much production, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves because they could have gotten a proven pass-rusher but chose not to.