DE Greg Spires (seven sacks) has been productive at both end and tackle for the Buccaneers this season
Strangely, of Greg Spires's first 5.5 sacks in 2004, only one occurred in a home game.
On Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' veteran defensive end was responsible for 1.5 sacks, not to mention a forced fumble and a high level of backfield chaos. Spires found his game at home…or maybe he found a new home at defensive tackle.
In an interesting late-season maneuver designed to get as many productive defensive linemen on the field for as many snaps as possible, the Buccaneers shifted Spires from his usual left end spot to the starting under tackle position. That opened a starting slot for second-year man Dewayne White. Spires and White came into the game tied for second on the team with 5.5 sacks each.
White, a reserve end for his first year-and-a-half in the NFL, had done fine as a sub at defensive tackle; in fact, all of his sacks had come since a rash of injuries on the interior line had forced the Bucs to use him there. However, he was primarily just used on passing downs, with the team using Chidi Ahanotu as the starter at under tackle. The Bucs believed Spires, in contrast, would be a good fit as an every-down player at that spot.
Before the game, Spires never claimed to love the idea, only that he would accept the move and work hard to excel inside. It was clear almost immediately that he would do just that.
Thirteen defensive snaps into the game, Spires already had 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss, all from the under tackle position. His quickness off the ball allowed him to slide past guards into the backfield, and he got to Aaron Brooks on two straight plays at one point, once from right in front of the quarterback and once after circling around to his side.
Spires didn't play all of his snaps at tackle and White didn't play all of his snaps at end, but the switch of starting spots got both players on the field more. Ahanotu shifted to a reserve end spot, played about 20 snaps and also contributed a sack.
"I thought [Spires] did great," said Head Coach Jon Gruden, who wasn't able to revel much in a generally outstanding defensive performance thanks to a stunning, last-minute loss. "He made a difference for us last night. He's a disruptor; he's a guy who creates so much havoc. He did a great job; he's played defensive end, he's played three-technique, he's a good pass-rusher and he's playing the run extremely well. It's a credit to him, certainly."
Spires has been surprisingly productive against the run all season, surprising because defensive end is not a position out of which the team expects to get nearly 90 tackles. That's another reason why the coaching staff felt Spires would be effective inside.
For years, Warren Sapp filled the very important under tackle spot on the Buccaneers' defense, but he's an Oakland Raider now. Anthony McFarland was thought to be a great fit in that spot after spending years at nose tackle, and he had three sacks in eight games but is now on injured reserve. Super-sub Ellis Wyms is also on the IR list. Finding a force at under tackle has been difficult for the Bucs, but they may have hit on a solution with this interesting move.
"Obviously, that's a position on our defense that's the engine, if you want to be honest, in terms of how fast, how quick we play," said Gruden. He also wasted no time in confirming that Spires would definitely continue to start at his new position.
"Yes, he will," said Gruden, emphatically.
Spires now has a career-best seven sacks, twice his previous career high, and he is tied for the team lead in both forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). He is sixth on the team with 76 tackles (on pace for 87), first among defensive linemen.
Call him an end. Call him a tackle. Just call him productive.
No Shuffled Deck
At his Monday morning press conference, Gruden spoke to how difficult it was to stand at the podium and try to explain another bizarre and painful loss. But at least he was spared the usual two-minute preamble regarding the latest batch of injuries.
Gruden, in fact, had no new injuries to report from Sunday's game, perhaps a first this season.
That should allow the Bucs to keep their starting lineups virtually intact for next Sunday's game against Carolina. And even the team's near-elimination from the playoff hunt won't lead to wholesale shuffling.
"We may look at a couple more guys to see where they are, but at the same time, we do have a pretty good feel for where we are for next season," said Gruden. "We have a long way to go until training camp next year. We'll talk about some of those things in the offseason."
Specifically, Gruden reiterated that he would not use the last couple games to get another look at second-year quarterback Chris Simms, who was named the starter in Week Five only to go down with a shoulder injury at the end of one quarter of play. Brian Griese stepped in and has since solidified his hold on the job with an outstanding season. Griese is on pace to break the team's single-season passer rating record, and he will start the last two games.
"I think Brian is playing very well," said Gruden. "I would like to give Chris some snaps. I think he is a talent. He's a young guy that I am excited about. I am also very impressed and encouraged by what Brian has done. Unfortunately, we have been unable to get a couple of these fish in the boat, but I do have a lot of confidence that Chris Simms is going to be a player here and a darn good one."
Gruden also indicated that he would keep the starting offensive line intact, citing the Panthers' dangerous defense.
"We'll see what the health of our team is here in the next day or so, but I don't foresee major changes in the offensive line, no," he said.
The Bucs did announce one roster move pertaining to the practice squad on Monday. Defensive tackle Jon Bradley was added to the practice squad, where he spent one week in November. Bradley was on the active roster for five games, but he was released late last week so that the team could promote defensive tackle Keith Wright from the practice squad. Bradley simply takes the spot on the practice squad vacated by Wright.
Brooks Still on Top
Voting for the 2005 Pro Bowl has concluded, with more than 61 million votes cast in the process on NFL.com. And, more than any other defensive player in the NFC, the voters favored Buccaneer linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Brooks, who has been to seven consecutive Pro Bowls and has started the last six, was the leading vote getter at outside linebacker in the NFC, attracting 272,842 ballots. That also made him the top vote getter among defensive players in the conference, as he made a late push to pass Chicago inside linebacker Brian Urlacher (272,159).
Brooks got more Pro Bowl votes than any other defensive player in the entire league except for New York Jets defensive end John Abraham (368,514) and Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis (281,341). As usual, offensive players dominated the list of the top vote getters overall, with quarterbacks Peyton Manning (1,075,089), Donovan McNabb (993,530) and Daunte Culpepper (902,877) taking the first three spots. The most favored non-quarterback was Philadelphia wide receiver Terrell Owens, who amassed 900,220 votes.
A composite ballot created from the fans' votes will be combined with similar composite ballots from the players and the coaches to determine the AFC and NFC rosters. Buccaneer players and coaches cast their votes last Friday after practice. The teams will be announced on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET on a special 'Selection Show' on ESPN, but the Buccaneers will be informed of their Pro Bowl representatives earlier in the day.
The Pro Bowl will be played in Hawaii on Sunday, February 13 and televised by ESPN at 7:30 p.m. ET.