Johnthan Banks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-round pick and their first selection in the 2013 draft, has been starting all season at right cornerback and has two interceptions. Third-round pick Mike Glennon has been under center since Week Four and sports a very un-rookie-like 90.3 passer rating. Fourth-rounder Akeem Spence has manned the starting nose tackle spot the entire season and is a key part of the team's 12th-ranked run defense. And sixth-round running back Mike James had stepped in as the starter for the injured Doug Martin, putting up big numbers in the process, before he too suffered a season-ending injury. Tight end Tim Wright, an undrafted free agent, is a starter, too, and the team's second-leading receiver.
And now, as of late, you can add fourth-round pick William Gholston, a versatile defensive end who can also play inside in certain packages, to that list of rookie contributors for the Buccaneers.
Gholston's numbers to this point aren't eye-catching; he has 11 tackles, a half-sack and two quarterback hits in nine games played, but during the second half of the season he has become a regular part of the team's defensive line rotation. Gholston seems to get a few more snaps each week, and that's partly because he has proved he can help in a number of different ways.
"Versatility does help him, because he can play five-technique, three-technique, he plays in the sub package," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "Will Gholston is a big man, he's a strong man, he plays hard, he can run. He's got all the physical attributes you look for."
The Bucs started by giving Gholston a little taste of action and seeing what would come of it. Had the rookie shown that he was not ready for the responsibility yet, they would have pulled back, but instead his playing time has headed in the other direction.
"We're kind of just shoving him out there – 'Let's go,' you know?" said Schiano. "There's no better way to learn than under the fire. He's responding as well. You don't keep doing that if he doesn't respond."
The increasing playing time for William Gholston wasn't the only topic being discussed at One Buc Place on Thursday. Below are some additional thoughts from Tampa Bay coaches and players.
Head Coach Greg Schiano
"A couple things on the injury front: [wide receiver] Vincent [Jackson] was limited today. He was back and forth. He was inside, he was outside, he was inside – getting work with [Director of Sports Medicine and Performance] Todd [Toriscelli] and us. [Defensive tackle] Gary Gibson was limited today, has a little bit of a calf [injury]. We'll see how much that affects him this weekend. [Wide receiver] Chris Owusu was limited today, had a little bit of a lower extremity – I wouldn't even call it an injury – but [better] safe than sorry. Other than that, good practice – third down, red zone gets installed today. We have some real challenges. Their multiplicity on defense, the things they do, are going to be quite a challenge for us – identification, number one, and then blocking some of the best front seven people in the National Football League, one-A. So that was good work today, just trying to get – obviously it's not the same – but trying to make it similar. The other challenge we have is, as I mentioned earlier, the no-huddle. As we all know, it's really heated up here the last couple days and it's going to be very warm on Sunday. Today, we were simulating the no-huddle with running a couple huddles and running guys in and out. I'm sure we'll have some IVs flowing in the training room. Real feel out there, it was close to 90 [degrees]. That'll have an impact I'm sure. Overall, a good practice, good effort, good enthusiasm, good tempo. We'll get in there and shine it up tomorrow, all phases, and then get ready."
(On if practicing in the heat will give them an advantage for Sunday)
"Maybe. I know when we used to come down here to play and it was cooler up north, we had an indoor [facility]. We turned the heat up in the indoor and got the guys ready for it. I'm sure [Bills Head Coach] Doug [Marrone is] doing something to that nature if they have the ability to do that. I don't know if they have the heat in their indoor. Without a doubt, the combination of the heat and our fans – I thought in the Miami and the Atlanta game, our fans were awesome. I just throw this out there to our fans, that when a no-huddle team tries to communicate, if you can take the verbal communication out of it by fan noise, it's very, very helpful. Now it's all hand signals. We need our own 12th man when we're on defense this weekend. I'm sure our fans are going to be ready to do that. I had an old line coach of mine who was a high school teacher, and during training camp we'd all lose our voices and he taught me a trick: you drink lemon water and it saves your voice. We'll get our fans some lemon water and get them screaming on Sunday [laughs]."
(On if practicing in the heat might wear guys down)
"There's a lot of truth to that. What we try to do and have really emphasized is we have to stay hydrated. Guys will do that. Guys understand that when you live down here, you learn how to handle it. But like I said, I'm sure we've got IVs going now because there's guys sweating like crazy, which isn't a great thing, but they'll get replenished. Now, from this point forward, we're not going to go real hard. I think we'll be fine by Sunday."
(On the team's mental state)
"We're fine mentally. Physically, we lose [linebacker Jonathan] Casillas, Vincent we're waiting to see, so there's certainly a lingering effect that way, but that's life. As we've said, that's the way it goes. Mentally, no, we're great. Guys are ready to play."
(On if Jackson participating in practice is a good sign for Sunday)
"Yeah, but you never know. When you have a leg injury and you're a receiver, your legs are your life; you've got to be able to run. We'll see when we give it a go, which I don't know when that'll be – if it'll be tomorrow, if it'll be Saturday or if it'll be Sunday – we'll give it a go. Vince is a pro. He'll know if he can do it or not, so it'll be up to him."
(On which receivers will be asked to fill in if Jackson can't play)
"Every guy on our roster right now. What we've got is what we've got. They've been up [active]. We had six guys up [Sunday in Carolina]. Two weeks ago, we had five up. The only guy that wasn't up was [Skye] Dawson. Every viable receiver on deck – that's the way it goes."
(On if safety Mark Barron is healthy given that safety Keith Tandy was in for him on some first-team reps in practice)
"Mark's fine. I don't know why that was like that. Maybe it was sub[-defensive package]. Mark comes down and plays the dime and then Tandy's in there. That might've been why."
(On having coverage breakdowns)
"It doesn't keep happening. We haven't had a lot of coverage breakdowns this year. There was a coverage breakdown there, no doubt. You see it all over the league though. That's not a rarity. When you're making multiple coverages or multiple calls within a coverage, sometimes you miscommunicate, but I watch game tape of every team and you see it often. You better not see it too often in this building, and I think we probably are on par with most teams in the league as far as having a breakdown in coverage. As a coach, you hate to see that though, because that's what we do – we teach them to communicate, teach them to see it the same way. Because it's us, we notice it more, but that happens when you play pass coverage against multiple formations with multiple calls."
(On right tackle Demar Dotson)
"I think his whole game has improved, including his pass protection. Is he where he's going to be? No. I think there's tremendous upside, still, in Demar. What you love about coaching him is he just works his tail off, doesn't say a heck of a lot and just keeps working. He's tough. He's had things that have been bothering him – you never hear a word. He's in there, takes care of it and keeps practicing. He's a bit of a throwback-type lineman."
(On improving the secondary this past offseason)
"I think we addressed it as a need. We went out and got some guys that were truly excellent players and really good leaders. I think that's what you're referring to is the trickle-down effect of the rest of the room. I think, like anything, when you bring in an elite player into a position room, it raises the level of the room. You guys remember seeing it in training camp with [safety] Dashon [Goldson] leading the guys, running extra sprints, fitting them up and teaching them man-coverage and techniques and stuff. To me, that's what team is, that's what football is, when you have that selfless giving of information. I go back to training camp – it's hot, you could get inside, get in the tub and eat your lunch, or you could stay out there and help a rookie who may not make the football team. That, to me, is the kind of guys that they are. [Cornerback] Darrelle [Revis is] the same way. Darrelle talks with all the corners and I think [has] really been a good mentor for our young [players], because we do have a bunch of young guys other than Darrelle. I think the oldest one would be Danny [Gorrer] – what is he, a third or fourth year player? I think they've been valuable. We need them to be. This is a passing league. We need that to continue."
(On why the team moved Tandy to safety from cornerback)
"We had a lot of knowledge on Keith. I used to see him once a year. He intercepted us twice. We thought that he could be a really good sub safety, because he's got good ball skills, coverage skills, we could bring him down as a cover guy. Where he's played beyond what we expected is when he got called to be a base safety as well – physical, stick his face in there. That's where he had to take the step, being a college corner. I think he's played well for us, and his versatility makes him very valuable. He almost can line up anywhere in the secondary, and he's got that kind of intelligence as well."
(On Buffalo linebacker Jerry Hughes)
"They bring him off the bench, mostly; he's not a starter. But man, is he good – relentless pass rusher, speed off the edge, then he has a great up-and-under move. They have some real depth in their d-line. They're going to roll some guys in there. You look at [Buffalo linebacker] Manny Lawson [who] is playing at a high level – those aren't the names that you hear about when you hear about their guys. They're playing at a high level. It's a talented group, and Hughes is right up there."
(On quarterback Mike Glennon's accuracy on short passes)
"You need it to if you're going to be successful. You're not going to stand back there very long with the football, because they lead the National Football League in sacks over 12 games. That's a pretty good sample size. It doesn't matter who they've played, they've gotten to the quarterback. We need to get rid of the ball and that comes down to reading it out, which Mike has been very good at. Because you're going to get rid of it more quickly, the accuracy, I think, is going to allow your receivers to run after the catch, and you're going to have to do that in some situations, I think, to get the first down. To stand here and say that, [on] a third-and-14, you're going to stand back there and wait for these deep routes to get there – not so fast, probably. That's where it all comes together now. We just have to help him. We have to be smart with what we're doing, give him a chance to be successful, and I think Mike will handle it fine. He's burning the oil on this one, because they're hard to prepare for – multiple looks. Now, if you can get it, you've got opportunities, because there's some holes there, but you've got to find them, and you can't find them when you're on your back. That's the key, I think, offensively."
Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan
(On the number and variety of interceptions this year)
"Well, I would say first of all, indirectly, a lot of those are the quarterback being pressured in the pocket and having to, what we call, make impulse throws or get off the spot a little bit and move around and not be just sitting back there. A lot of those have had to do with the quarterback being moved off his regular launch point. I guess the reason why it's been spread around, we've had a bunch of guys play back there, the same guys back there every week, yes. But the other thing, too, is I think they're just getting more comfortable playing the coverages and they're doing a better job of playing them. Playing the techniques, especially on the back end; and so when that happens, combined with the pressure from the front, a lot of times that stuff just falls into your lap. Like we were talking about earlier in the year, sometimes you get a dry spell; you can go a couple weeks and you can get shut out of turnovers but other times when you're playing fast and you're confident in the coverages and you're familiar with the offensive game plan that you anticipate from the team, you can play your routes a little bit better. A lot of times, that stuff, it comes right to you."
(On defensive end Will Gholston)
"For us, he's a first and second down, what we call a 'five-technique.' He's the guy we're going to line up to the tight end's side and play over the offensive tackle and that's why we drafted him, because he's a prototypical what we would call a five technique. A big long arm guy, very physical at the point and can push the pocket. Where he really has gotten most of his snaps early on is on the third down package playing inside tackle alongside with [defensive tackle] Gerald [McCoy] and the best thing he's doing right now and has done is he can really push guys back. He's not a real flashy, shake-and-bake, try to beat you on the edge guy, but he can really get his shoulder pads down and push a guy back into the quarterback and that's very disruptive in its own right. That's kind of the roles he's had so far and I think he's going to be a really good player. He's been a good draft pick for us."
(On if Gholston's progress is measured differently because of his age)
"Only when we reflect on it are we evaluating guys at this time of the year. We're so wrapped up in the game plan and just getting our rotation ready for who's going to play and what kind of roles different guys are going to have. But, like you said, he's a very young player and because of his talent level and his serious approach to it, I think he's going to end up being a very, very good player. We're excited about him for sure."
(On the Buccaneers defense and playing off the edge)
"I think on first and second down, it'd be very easy to cut guys loose and let them scream up the field, and I think most defensive ends would love to do that. Unfortunately in our league, first and second down are fit – unless you get into second and long, first down for sure and early parts of second down, second and one-to-five – it's 50/50 run-pass, so we ask a lot of those guys from a run fit and a run technique and a run support standpoint, which doesn't lend itself to screaming off the edge. And then on third down, we pressure a lot so we have different guys coming off the edge. A lot of it is second level players, linebackers and DBs coming off the edge. I think our D-ends are doing a good job and I know they'd love to just put their, pin their ears back and tear off the edge all the time but we require them, again, on first down and second and one-to-five to really play run techniques first because we want to get into longer downs where we can pressure or turn them loose. I think they're doing a good job and, like I said, we get different guys coming off the edge when we're trying to create edge pressure."
(On the defensive pressure against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's 56-yard scramble)
"That was a pressure, you're exactly right, and at the early part of the down when it cracked the line of scrimmage, right, you had coached different components of the front, even the guys coming from the other side trying to get through and execute their pressures to the guys who are setting the edge, opposite the direction we were pressuring from. And then when it breaks out, on the back end, you're counting on your back end guys to just kind of corral it and get it knocked down for what might have been a 15- or 20-yarder. We even had it split; some of our back end guys, so it turned into a [56-yarder] which is a very discouraging breakout play. But the one thing about it is, and we're very cognizant of guys like Cam who can scramble and potentially be a nightmare when you're trying to pressure, but if you don't, you're really just going to be playing back on your heels and just try to rush with four guys the whole game and to me, you don't want to let a quarterback ever get that comfortable. It's a risk-reward that you've got to weigh and, obviously, that totally came back to bite us and set up their first score. We normally wouldn't go into a game and just say. 'Hey, we're going to rush three guys and not worry about him getting out of the packet and all that stuff.' We're actually trying to move him off the launch point and actually get to him so we still try to mix it, even though we're playing an athletic quarterback. But, yeah, that was a very discouraging breakout play, a 50-something yarder which might have been the biggest play of the year against us, one of the biggest."
(On Buffalo's offense)
"The biggest thing I would say, is that first of all, they're very committed to running the ball and they do a very good job of it. They have two very, very good running backs; they execute their running game plan very well; they can block all the fronts; they're not complex but therefore very good at what they do in their zone blocking patterns and they have to outstanding running backs who, eventually, they keep giving it to them, they crack the line of scrimmage and they're out in the secondary and they make the four-yard runs turn into 20-yard runs. The other thing is, on the perimeter, they're very explosive, they've got dynamic vertical threats and they're more than willing to throw it down the field and all parts of the field and all down and distances. Third-and-short to coming off their own goal line, they have no hesitation of throwing shots down the field, and they have really good skill in straight line speed guys on the perimeter. It's a little surprising; we only go back five or six games to get ready for people and so I can't speak to their whole season and why they find themselves – maybe with the record they have, I'd like to say the same about us – but you watch them on offense and to me, they're a very dynamic offensive team for those two things, the running game and the explosive athletes they have on the perimeter and their willingness to throw the ball down the field. All you have to do is catch half of them and there's, those are 50-yard shots down the field."
(On Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller and his ability in open space)
"He's a nightmare – you don't want him out there. He's a distinctly different guy than the regular guys that we're playing against every week because when he is out in the open, you're holding your breath and you're just counting on your back end guys trapping him to get him down. In the open field he's very elusive and he's got incredible straight line speed. He runs away from a lot of defensive backs.
(On if Buffalo throws the ball to their running backs)
"Yeah, a little bit more to [running back] Fred [Jackson], but they use him as well in the screen game and that kind of stuff and he has to be accountable for as well because they can dump it off to him, and if you can't corral him early in the down, he's going to be breaking out. He's a real talent."
CB Darrelle Revis
(On what makes Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson a difficult matchup)
"He's real shifty at the line, his routes are real smooth. He's not a burner of a receiver – a fast guy – but he finds ways to get open and I think that's why he's good at what he does."
(On Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel)
"Watching film on him I think they've got a strong offense. They're very explosive especially with [running backs] Fred Jackson and [CJ] Spiller. [EJ is] a rookie quarterback, he's coming in, he's trying to get his groove. That's what I feel and I think he's been doing that. I think overall we need to stop him and we need to stop the running game. I played against them in the past, Spiller and Fred Jackson, and the biggest key was to stop the run because we don't want to get those guys going. CJ Spiller can be very explosive and also Fred Jackson he can turn it on as well."
(On leading the league in interceptions as a team)
"That's a great accomplishment, but I think we've played up and down this year. I've been trying to find ways to be consistent. We're still trying to click as a group and hopefully we'll be together for a bunch of years because we've been playing great at times, but we need to be better at times."
(On the defense stepping up and creating turnovers)
"Guys have been stepping up, we've been having a lot of guys injured or banged up a lot and guys have been stepping up. [Safety Keith] Tandy is one of those guys who has stepped up a lot, he has some interceptions. The linebackers have been playing awesome, Lavonte [David] got a pick last week and talk about Mason [Foster] getting interceptions for touchdowns. Guys have been playing great and that's a great accomplishment for us leading the league in picks."
(On if the weather will be working against the defense considering Buffalo runs a no huddle offense)
"They do run the no huddle we know that, we know they're going to be very up-tempo, but we'll see how it goes. Like I said I think it's to our advantage and when we see them guys gasping for air, that'll be the reason why, especially being no huddle as well. We'll see."
(On Manuel running Buffalo's offense)
"He takes his chances, he takes a lot of shots down the field. They've got some fast receivers, they really do. They've got some fast receivers on the outside, so we need to be aware of that in the secondary. He seems like he's not shying away, he doesn't care whose out there regardless he's going to throw the ball up because he has confidence in his guys."