Young DT Dre Moore appears much more prepared to make an impact in his second NFL training camp
Earlier this month, we introduced a short pre-training camp series on Buccaneers.com called "Hot Spots," in which we will look at a handful of positions on the depth chart that will find new starting names in 2009.
These aren't bold predictions of lineup overhaul but rather statements of fact. When Jeff Garcia departed via free agency this past spring, it didn't necessarily mean that there would be a quarterback battle in Tampa, but it did mean there would be a new starter under center in 2009.
There are no shortage of such positions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, thanks to a series of conspicuous roster moves made earlier this year. For the purposes of this series, we counted 28 starting and high-impact non-starting positions (the 22 offensive and defensive starters plus the two kicker spots, two kick return spots, third wide receiver and nickel back) and found that at least nine would definitely have new occupants in 2009.
Previously, we've looked at the storylines surrounding left cornerback and nickel back spots, third receiver, weakside linebacker and strong safety and, most recently, left defensive end. Earlier this week, we also examined the candidates to take over the critical starting quarterback position. In this final installment of Hot Spots, we look at a position with a lower profile than quarterback but perhaps just as much competition and intrigue: defensive tackle.
Hot Spots: Defensive Tackle
By the Buccaneers' depth chart terminology, the team has two starters at this position. In practice, returning starter Chris Hovan played more of the nose tackle position last year and since-departed Jovan Haye was the "under tackle," or "three-technique." It is Haye's position that is up for grabs in 2009.
Of course, those informal designations were part of the Buccaneers' old defense, which usually favored smaller and quicker defensive tackles, especially at the under tackle spot. With new coordinator Jim Bates at the helm, the defense will try to present a more sizeable interior front, which is one reason why eighth-year man Ryan Sims is the presumptive starter.
Sims was identified as the leading candidate early in the offseason and has indeed run with the first team throughout the spring and summer. He is 6-4 and 315 pounds and is coming off a 2008 season that ended on an up note. In his two years in Tampa since a trade from Kansas City in the spring of 2007, Sims has steadily taken on a larger role in the Bucs' D-line rotation, and he also made two starts late in '08 when Hovan and Haye were hurting.
Sims made the most of his somewhat limited playing time last year, notching 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. Though he is capable of tying up multiple blockers, as this defense will sometimes ask him to do, the former first-round pick also has good quickness for his size and can force his way into the pocket.
Most of the rest of the Bucs' defensive tackle crew is composed of young players. Even if none of them are able to push Sims off his starting role, it's likely that several will figure prominently in the rotation. That includes a couple men — veteran Jimmy Wilkerson and rookie Kyle Moore — who are listed as defensive ends but are likely to see some action inside on passing downs.
The Buccaneers definitely made an attempt to address the position during the draft, and at the very least gave it some badly-needed depth. After taking quarterback Josh Freeman in the first round, the team used its next pick, a third-rounder, on Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller. Miller isn't tall but he's thick and hard to move and it's likely that the Bucs envision him at least being part of the rotation early in his rookie campaign. Miller was known for his nonstop motor while starring at Texas; that alone should make him one of the coaches' favorites.
Moore came a round later and, again, figures to be part of the solution at defensive tackle if not necessarily a candidate for starting or playing on first downs. Moore is tall (6-4) and active like Miller, and he drew a lot of praise during offseason workouts for his progress.
Third-year man Greg Peterson has been trying to carve out a role since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2007, and he has seen a small amount of time at both end and tackle. It appears as if he has settled in on the interior line, bulking up closer to 300 pounds for the more physically demanding role. Peterson looks the part, and his raw talent — the Bucs drafted him out of North Carolina Central — continues to intrigue the coaching staff.
The kudos for the team's young defensive tackles were actually spread around quite a bit during the offseason OTAs and mini-camps, as first-year men Dre Moore and Chris Bradwell and rookie free agent Rashaad Duncan were all the recipients of praise at one point or another. Moore's cases is the most interesting — he was a fourth-round pick in 2008 who struggled to get into shape and was relegated to the practice squad for all of last season. The former Maryland standout has reportedly made significant strides since the end of the '08 campaign, enough to engender serious optimism about his chances to make the roster this second time around.
The Bucs might like to keep all these young prospects around for the D-Line rotation, but it's not likely that the limits of a 53-man roster will allow it. Depending partly upon which players are deemed capable of playing both end and tackle, the Bucs will likely keep eight or nine defensive linemen on the roster. Even if only four of those eight or nine are defensive ends, that still leaves such players as D. Moore, Duncan, Bradwell, Peterson and Miller fighting for just a few spots behind the presumptive starters, Hovan and Sims.