Injuries are a given in training camp – no matter the team. Some position groups get hit harder than others but the day-in and day-out grind of camp takes its toll across the board. The way to protect against the inevitable 'injury bug'? Versatility. And that's just what the Bucs' defensive line has.
The front four has been hit hardest on the interior with both free agent Mitch Unrein and first-round pick Vita Vea missing significant time this preseason. Defensive tackle Beau Allen missed a couple days last week as well. The team has supplemented these losses by signing rookies Adam Reth and Nathan Bazata, along with veteran Jerel Worthy in the middle of camp. But when it came to who would start inside for the Bucs' 'dress rehearsal' third preseason game, it was defensive end Will Gholston who got the chance to fill in next to the anchoring perennial Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
Seeing an end slide inside isn't an anomaly for the Bucs, at least not during this preseason. Even without a necessitation by injury, the line under the tutelage of new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner is much more fluid in nature. There are multiple players that have played multiple positions based on situational factors.
"We had guys go down and [Gholston] stepped in and I think it went really well," defensive tackle Beau Allen said. "I think that's something that needs to be recognized. You see him and you see Vinny [Curry] play inside on passing downs and guys can kind of move all over the place. That's a good thing – give offenses different looks and attack different teams different ways."
Allen would know as he had the opportunity to observe from the sidelines in Friday's game against the Detroit Lions, being held out with a minor injury he's already back from. As for Gholston, although it had been a while, playing inside wasn't totally new for the sixth-year player. In fact, Gerald McCoy mentioned that Gholston played tackle next to him as a rookie during the 2013 season. That experience, coupled with the advice of his coach, allowed Gholston to make the transition pretty easily.
"With the techniques that Coach Buckner has shown me so far, I take my size and length and leverage into consideration," Gholston said. "I'm just out here trying to make sure I do whatever is asked of me to the best of my ability."
It seemingly paid off, too. Gholston recorded a sack of Lions' starting quarterback Matt Stafford in the game on Friday night. He blew past the left guard through the A-gap and with no leverage on him, Detroit center Graham Glasgow had no chance of stopping Gholston on his way to Stafford.
"I did, I did. That was fun," Gholston said of getting his first sack of the preseason. "It was everything to the 'T' that we watched film on. You kind of have an eye for the protection and you know they're going to slide. I just beat the slide and kept going for it."
Watching film is one thing. Putting it into action and translating it into a sack is another. Gholston is just one example of how the defensive line is almost chameleon-like, adapting to what the offense is showing on any given down. Players that can handle a rotation like that are special and Gholston is out to prove he is one of them.
"I don't know if people really appreciate how hard it is to play end your entire career and then all of a sudden, you're playing inside," Allen said of Gholston. "It's a tough thing to do. There are a lot of differences and I have to give a shout-out to Will for doing that and he never complained about it."
As Gholston continues to determine his place within a stacked defensive line when healthy, being able to play multiple positions is something that will only help going forward.
"Really I'm just taking advantage of my opportunity," Gholston said. "I'm trying to make the reps count, not count the reps."
View exclusive behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers' game against the Detroit Lions from Team Photographer Kyle Zedaker