DT/DE Ellis Wyms is invigorated by the fact that his first game as the Bucs' new DT starter comes against the league's top-ranked offense
It would be hard to blame Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Ellis Wyms for being a bit taken aback this week. No sooner had the sixth-year tackle made his way to his locker after practice on Wednesday than he was surrounded by a dozen reporters firing off one question after another.
After all, this was the media blitz usually reserved for Simeon Rice, whose locker stands right next to Wyms. This semicircle of cameras sometimes descends on Greg Spires or Chris Hovan, too, but a reserve defender such as Wyms rarely gets the same sort of media treatment – unless, of course, he moves into the starting lineup.
That's exactly where Wyms will be on Sunday as a result of the trade that sent incumbent starting defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round pick in the 2007 draft. Wyms' promotion comes not only as a result of McFarland's departure; it's also the product of years of hard work by Wyms. Say what you will about McFarland's production over the past few years, but the Buccaneers would not have vacated a spot on their defensive line if they didn't believe they had a player who could step in and be productive.
"I feel like I've been playing well," Wyms said. "As a group, I don't think we've done as well as we've wanted to do, but it feels like I've been doing an okay job. I've just got to do a lot more and be a lot better now that I'm hoisted into this starting role."
In five seasons and five games with the Buccaneers, Wyms has proven himself a versatile defensive lineman, filling in effectively at end and tackle on countless occasions. Just this past Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals Wyms recorded two sacks, helping secure the Buccaneers' first win of the season. The team believes he can be even more of a disruptive force as a starter at the under tackle position, and Wyms has the full confidence of his fellow defensive linemen.
"I think he is going to make out fine," said Rice. "He's been ready for this. He's prepared for this. He's conditioned for this. This is what any player wants. He's been playing in spots throughout his career, backing up at various positions, to have an opportunity to play with zest, to play with juice, to really start his career. This is really a passing of the torch. I think this is a [heck] of a way to tell a player that, 'We believe in you.'"
Hovan agrees, lauding Wyms' abilities.
"I've been playing with Ellis since I got here last year," Hovan said. "He has great get-off, he's a great pass-rusher. He's solid against the run – all the things you want in a three-technique [tackle]. I'm comfortable with him. We practice all the time. I think he's a great athlete. I think he's going to be a great three-technique in this defense for a while to come."
The "three-technique" Hovan speaks of is a term used to describe where Wyms will be playing – also known as under tackle, as mentioned above. Generally, a three-technique lineman is more of a high-energy player who is relied upon to generate a push from the interior line, helping create a pass-rush. In contrast, the one-technique that Hovan plays often focuses on occupying his area of the field, concentrating on stopping the run and fighting double-teams.
And while he admits he's definitely excited to be starting for the Buccaneers today against the Philadelphia Eagles, Wyms has tempered his excitement with a blue-collar approach to his new role.
"It's another step up, a different role, a different situation for me," Wyms said. "And I approach it like I approach any other week – just get ready to play, know my job and know what I've got to do. Just approach it like any other week.
"Everybody wants the opportunity to start, wants the opportunity to shine, but more than anything we want to win here. We want the defense to play well, and I've just played my role the past several years just like I am going to do this weekend. I've got a role to play Sunday, and hopefully I'm going to come out and do a good job."
He'll definitely be tested against the number-one ranked Eagles offense. With a league-leading 36 plays of 20 yards or more, the Eagles' offense has been extremely explosive this season. Led by quarterback Donovan McNabb – who may be playing the best football of his already highly successful career – the Eagles are tops in the NFL with 81 plays of 10 or more yards and rank first in six offensive categories.
"It's a great test to start with," Wyms acknowledged. "It's a hell of a way to make your debut – against the best offense in the league. That's what we want. We thrive on challenges around here, and it's a challenge for the defense as well as it's a challenge for me to come out and help us make some plays to win. I'm looking forward to that challenge of going out there and putting my best foot forward, and I know that's going to be enough for us to get a win."