The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a four-time Pro Bowler anchoring their interior defensive line, and they were clearly focused on adding pass-rush talent on the edges of that line during the offseason. As a result, as cuts loom to get a 90-man camp roster down to 53, the team looks to be running deep on defensive ends while the depth behind all-star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy isn't as obvious.
On Monday, the Buccaneers added another player to that DT competition, signing fourth-year free agent Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, most recently of the New England Patriots. To make room for Kitchen on the 90-man roster, the Bucs waived/injured rookie safety Elijah Shumate.
Kitchen played 40 games and made three starts with the Cleveland Browns from 2012-14. He was credited with 78 tackles, two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. He first entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. When the Ravens waived him just prior to the start of the regular season, the Browns claimed Kitchen and made him part of their D-Line rotation for most of the next three years. After being waived by Cleveland last September, he followed with stints in Detroit and New England, playing one game each for the Lions and Patriots.
If he makes it to the 53-man roster, Kitchen could add a different dimension to the Buccaneers' interior line – namely, size. He was most recently listed as 6-1 and 330 pounds while with the Patriots, which would have him equal to A.J. Francis as the heaviest linemen on the team. The Bucs' experienced trio of McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence are all listed between 297 and 307 pounds. Kitchen could find a niche as a plugger who occupies blocks and clogs lanes for running backs.
Francis and Cliff Matthews are the other two defensive tackles on the roster with some regular-season NFL experience. Francis got into three games with Miami and Seattle last year while Matthews appeared in 32 contests for the Atlanta Falcons from 2012-14. In addition, the team signed a pair of undrafted rookies at the position: Auburn's DaVonte Lambert and Kansas State's Travis Britz.
"We're definitely still looking," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter regarding depth at the defensive tackle position. "There's still good competition there and we added another guy to the mix [Monday]. But there's plenty of competition there, Cliff Matthews and A.J., those guys are in a battle."
The Buccaneers have also been moving starting right end Robert Ayers into the middle of the line in their nickel packages, with rookie Noah Spence coming in to rush off the edge. The Buccaneers might use several other ends as tackles in certain situations, including William Gholston. Still, the defensive tackle depth chart remains a bit uncertain after the promising trio of McCoy, McDonald and Spence, and Kitchen will try to make a late push to join that competition.