Before suffering an elbow injury in Week 15, defensive end William Gholston had played in 65% of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive snaps through the first 13 games. That's almost exactly two-thirds of the maximum amount of playing time, and whether coincidental or not it represents the common perception of his strengths. Over four years as a Buccaneer, Gholston has developed into one of the NFL's better run-stopping ends (he ranks ninth in the league in that span in both tackles and run stuffs) and, of course, first and second down are the more likely running downs.
Gholston signed a new five-year contract with the Buccaneers on Monday, three days before he could have become an unrestricted free agent. He said the team made him an offer to which he "couldn't say no," and that's good for the Buccaneers because they clearly prioritized bringing back their 25-year-old starting left end. If Gholston succeeds in taking his game to where he wants it to be, that decision is going to look even better for both sides.
Specifically, Gholston wants to make himself invaluable on third down.
Photos from William Gholston's 2016 campaign.
"It's a forward-passing league," he said. "It's good to stop the run because you have to stop the run for them to pass, but I want to be out there on third down rushing too. It's really up to me to get out there and do the best I can."
Gholston has had either 2.0 or 3.0 sacks in each of his four seasons so far. He has also recorded a total of 26 quarterback hits and 29 tackles for loss during that span, remaining fairly steady in those categories in each of his four years. There's no doubting that the Buccaneers value Gholston's overall game – Monday's contract made that clear – but he's sure he can produce even more.
"My whole goal is to become an elite pass-rusher, to be honest with you," he said. "I wouldn't label myself as a run defender. I feel like with the opportunity that I've had to rush the passer, I've progressed and progressed and progressed. Hopefully, within these next few seasons I become an elite pass-rusher, because that's the goal to be honest with you."
Again, Gholston could have become an unrestricted free agent and made himself available to 31 other teams merely by waiting three more days. Had he felt there was another location that was better for him to pursue the above goal, he had a chance to find out. Clearly, he thinks that opportunity will present itself in Tampa as long as he does his part.
"I feel like I've been put in very good positions every time I stepped on the field," said Gholston of his first four years in Tampa. "I don't feel like I've been put into a disadvantage of my abilities; it has only made me a stronger and more flexible player. I feel like that came into play with them wanting to be able to extend me and give me a bigger and better role here."
Gholston's 6-6, 280-pound frame allows him to be effective both inside and outside on the Buccaneers' defensive line, and that versatility has bought him more playing time. However, he doesn't necessarily believe that it's his physical attributes that will help him achieve the next goal in his career.
"When I first came into the league I thought it was about how strong or how fast you were, or what you could do, but it's really about the knowledge and the process of your mental preparation," said Gholston. "If you prepare mentally, everything else will come because nothing really changes but the speed of your mind, having to decipher a play or formation, tendencies, down and distance, position on the field. It's really a mental battle when you come into the league."