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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: DL-Dominant

This week's mailbag is dominated by talk about the defensive line, including the idea of Henry Melton getting some playing time on the end…We also discuss the secondary and WR Donteea Dye.


Check out photos from day 5 of OTA practice at One Buccaneer Place.

Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans.  This week, the majority of the discussion centers around the defensive line, with one reader wondering about the possibility of DT Henry Melton getting some action as an edge rusher. Other topics include the overall state of the Bucs' pass rush in 2015, the idea of converting a cornerback to safety and the chances of undrafted rookie WR Donteea Dye.


1. Moving Outside?

I knew I would live to regret revealing my true first name when Casey Phillips and I were discussing Evan Smith's recent name change. At least I no longer run into too many people who remember the 1970s TV show, What's Happening!!, (yes, the official title includes two exclamation points); if you don't know why that is, I'm not going to explain it.

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Anyway, you heard that Henry Melton got some snaps at defensive end last year in Dallas, Mike? I'm wondering what your source is, because I can't find any mention of it. He's only graded as a defensive tackle on Pro Football Focus and I can't find any stories mentioning him moonlighting on the end. I did find this wonderfully comprehensive breakdown of his game against the Jacksonville Jaguars last year on Since they break down every defensive snap in the game we can see that, on that afternoon at least, Melton did not play any snaps at end. Most of his work was as a three-technique DT, with a handful of snaps as a one-technique. Now, the Cowboys used a variety of looks up front, and Melton definitely had some snaps on which he lined up farther away from the center than others, but at no time was he the last guy on the edge of the line.

Just to be sure, I grabbed Bucs' Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen coming off the field after yesterday's OTA practice. Obviously, Cullen would have watched plenty of tape on Melton when the Buccaneers were deciding whether or not to pursue him in free agency. Actually, he probably watched all of it, as indicated by his answer. Cullen said that Melton played a "minimal" number of snaps at end, later providing the exact number: 25. Cullen also told me that Melton played one entire game at end during his time with the Chicago Bears.

All of that said, I don't think it's a bad question, Mike. A quick look at the Bucs' defensive depth chart shows that the team is loaded on the interior D-Line – Tampa Bay led all teams in sacks by DTs last year, and that was before Melton's arrival – while questions remain about the edge rushers. There's talent there, to be sure, especially if Jacquies Smith and George Johnson build on very promising breakouts in 2014, but not as much proven production as the defensive tackles offer.

Given the presence of Melton, Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, in particular, could the Buccaneers seek to even out that talent by occasionally using one of those three at end? Well, to that question in specific regard to Melton, Cullen said, "Possibly."

That's the kind of non-specific answer  you probably should get from a coach at this time of the year. One, there is still a lot of time left for the Bucs' D-Line rotation to shake out, and at this time of the year those players can't even be evaluated in contact situations. And two, if the defensive coaches do have any specific strategic plans for their personnel, there's no reason to share them outside the building right now.

I do believe this: On third-and-long, the Buccaneers are going to try to put their four best pass-rushers on the field. If it turns out that the above three defensive tackles are in the top four, I think it's possible the Bucs could occasionally make use of all three on the field at the same time, which means you might technically refer to one of them as an end for that snap. Mostly, however, I believe the point of building all that depth at defensive tackle was so that the team could rotate those players liberally, keeping all of them fresh so that the Bucs could provide steady pressure up the middle throughout the game.

2. Getting More Pressure?

This is pretty much just a continuation of the discussion above, except for the part about the shirt. I'm not even sure which shirt you're talking about, but I assume it's one of the polo shirts with the new Bucs logo. Well, sorry man, but I need these for work!

Tampa Bay's defense produced 36 sacks last year, and very little of that came from blitzing, so you can consider that a pretty good evaluation of the defensive line's effort. There's more to judging a team's pass rush than just its raw sack totals, of course, but that's a good place to start. Those 36 sacks tied for 21st in the league; it would have taken just five more to get into the league's top 10, however.

So, compared to last year, the Bucs' pass rush in 2015 could be considerably worse, somewhat worse, roughly the same, somewhat better or considerably better. If you're asking me for a prediction on that spectrum, I would say, "somewhat better." I'm hoping, of course, that it will be "considerably better," but we have to acknowledge the unproven nature of the cast of defensive ends the Bucs currently employ.

But I do expect improvement. Even though the Buccaneers didn't have a chance to address the issue in the draft – aiming at a franchise quarterback and helping a struggling offensive line was given top priority on Days One and Two – the offseason seems to be a net positive for the pass rush. Joining the mix are Henry Melton (5.0 sacks in 433 snaps, sixth-rated pass-rushing DT by Pro Football Focus) and George Johnson (6.0 sacks in 502 snaps, 16th-rated pass-rushing DE); departing are Michael Johnson (4.0 sacks, 54th) and Da'Quan Bowers (1.5 sacks, 80th). I know that Adrian Clayborn has also departed, and I remain a fan of his, but he missed almost all of last season so he really doesn't factor into the loss-gain equation.

The best photos from the first week of Organized Team Activities.

If you believe the fine seasons turned in by George Johnson and Jacquies Smith last year were flukes then you're probably not as bullish on the Bucs' chances for pass-rush improvement as I am. If you think those were very real emergences that could lead to even better production going forward, then you share my optimism. Know that Buccaneer coaches quietly feel good about what they think they can get out of holdovers Larry English and T.J. Fatinikun; the rest of us will have to wait and see, but if the coaches are right about that then the rotation should be much deeper this year.

As I mentioned above, Tampa Bay's defensive tackles combined to produce the most sacks from that position of any team in the NFL last year. Melton (not part of that total, as he was in Dallas last year), Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence all had at least three, and then there is a bona fide superstar in Gerald McCoy. McCoy has been flirting with double-digit sacks the last two years and is a strong bet to hit that mark this year, especially with all of that depth keeping everybody fresh. If the Bucs' interior pressure gets even better, and I think it will, all of those unproven but promising ends will find more one-on-one rushing situations.

That's the formula, and I'm betting it works, at least to a reasonable amount of improvement. We'll see if the Bucs' pass rush can take it to another level entirely.

3. Scott/ Casey, So I am super excited for this season just as I think most Bucs fans are.  I have a couple questions.  In my eyes we have a chance to have a very good defense this year and seem to have some good competition in the CB position.  What do you think the chances are of having one of those CB's compete for a safety spot this season? I know the coaches are always talking about putting the best eleven on the field, and we have done this before.  Is this something that Lovie would even consider?  Also, I would like to hear more about this Donteea Dye.  I have heard that he is extremely fast and I'm sure he is a long shot to make the team but I think he could be someone to keep an eye on, your thoughts? Tom Hawk CPO, USN VA BCH, VA

Okay, we finally shift gears after all that D-Line talk. CPO Hawk wants to talk secondary and wide receivers, and his excitement about the upcoming season is good to see. That's while we'll let him sneak two questions in for the price of one.

Lovie's team recently moved second-year player Matthew Masifilo to the offensive line after he had spent the last couple years as a defensive tackle, mostly on the practice squad. I think he's willing to listen to any idea that could possibly help the team. Your "best 11 on the field" comment is spot on – similar to my note above about putting the four best pass-rushers on the field on third down – so I'm sure Coach would consider it.

I don't know if I see an obvious conversion situation on the current depth chart, though. When you say that the Bucs have done this CB-to-S move before, I assume you're mostly thinking of Ronde Barber, who played safety (and did so well) in his final year after 15 Hall-of-Fame seasons at cornerback. That's the more common way that move plays out in the NFL, with a long-time corner finishing up his career at safety, a la Aeneas Williams. The player of the most advanced age in the Bucs' cornerback corps is Mike Jenkins, a 30-year-old who has played in seven previous seasons.

You didn't name any names in your question, but I'm guessing it's Jenkins you're thinking about when you ask this question, since he would presumably be battling Johnthan Banks for a starting corner spot opposite Alterraun Verner. Well, I'm not saying that Jenkins couldn't do it, but I honestly have not heard any such talk.

I would be skeptical of this happening for two reasons. One – and I feel like I make this point too often, but here goes – I believe it's difficult to build adequate cornerback depth in the NFL. I know the Bucs have struggled with that in recent years. I'm not sure you want to rob from Peter to pay Paul here, especially if Peter is currently strapped for cash. No matter how the Buccaneers manage to make the most of Verner, Banks, Jenkins, Sterling Moore, Brandon Dixon, Leonard Johnson and a few other candidates, I'm personally in favor of them all staying at cornerback and making that group as deep as possible for the long haul.

Two, do we really need to dip into our corner stash to help the safeties? With the recent addition of D.J. Swearinger, the Buccaneers have some pretty interesting starting candidates in him, Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte, and that's without mentioning Major Wright and Keith Tandy. I think the Bucs' best bet of getting their top 11 on the field is to let all the cornerbacks and safeties stay at their current positions.

As for Donteea Dye, I'd be lying if I told you I knew much about him just yet. I've never seen a Heidelberg game, and he's only been here at One Buc a couple weeks. Tell you what: I'll make a point of asking Wide Receivers Coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker about him in the coming days and see if I can get you a more detailed answer in an upcoming Insider video.

Apparently, though, he does have good speed to go with his 6-0, 195-pound frame. He took part in the Pro Day at Bowling Green and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash in front of NFL scouts. He is, according to scouting reports, a very hard-worker. Those are nice traits to start with when trying to grab that 52nd or 53rd spot on the roster. And there's room for a young player or two to make it on the back end of the Bucs' receiving corps this year. Of the six receivers on the depth chart at the end of 2014, two are no longer with the team (Solomon Patton and Tavarres King) and two others have combined for 10 NFL receptions (Robert Herron and Russell Shepard).

Louis Murphy finished the 2014 season on I.R. but was the third receiver for much of the year, and Herron and Shepard are still around to compete. In addition, the draft brought two interesting options in Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay. Undrafted rookie Rannell Hall impressed during the team's rookie mini-camp. So there is plenty of competition for Dye, unsurprisingly, but there's reason to believe he has a chance.

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at ***.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.*

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