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What’s up front counts for Bucs

Posted May 9, 2012 by Ira Kaufman

Updated May 9, 2012 at 12:02 PM

By IRA KAUFMAN

TAMPA—The young defensive line of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers carries a heavy burden into the 2012 season.

The Bucs used two of their first three draft choices to address needs at safety (Mark Barron) and linebacker (Lavonte David). Cornerback Eric Wright was targeted early in free agency to help a defense that allowed 30 touchdown passes.

Tampa Bay signed defensive tackle Amobi Okoye to provide competition at defensive tackle, but for the most part, the Bucs are relying on their young linemen to stay healthy and grow together into an effective unit. That wasn’t the case in 2011, as Gerald McCoy suffered his second torn biceps in as many seasons and fellow tackle Brian Price was limited to 28 stops and three sacks.

The bright spot was first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, who led the club with 7.5 sacks at right end. Fellow rookie Da’Quan Bowers started the final six games at left end, showing only brief flashes as a pass rusher.

Collectively, the group up front was ravaged on the ground as opposing clubs averaged 5.0 yards per carry. The defensive line failed to occupy blockers and running backs routinely broke through to the second level.

Pressure up front was also subpar as the Bucs registered only 23 sacks and opposing quarterbacks posted a glittering 97.2 passer rating.

If the Bucs are to challenge for their first playoff berth in five seasons, Tampa Bay’s defensive line will have to play at a much higher level. And after using four premium draft picks up front in 2010 and 2011, general manager Mark Dominik needs these young linemen to show marked improvement this fall.

The Bucs are 17-31 in three years of rebuilding under the Dominik regime and ownership is looking for a major step forward under new head coach Greg Schiano. A new coaching staff is determined to bring out the best in McCoy, Price, Clayborn, Bowers and Okoye—who have a lot to prove collectively for a franchise asking its fans to join the fight.

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