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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rotational Role Ideal for George Johnson

Fourth-year DE George Johnson may see more snaps with the Bucs in 2015 than he got in his breakout season with Detroit, but he'll still benefit from a committee approach to getting to the QB.

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Last year, the Detroit Lions put George Johnson on the field for 531 defensive snaps, which worked out to about 53% playing time on that side of the ball. Johnson, who had bounced around the league a little bit after first signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2010, was surely just happy to be getting steady playing time.

The Lions were happy, too, when Johnson produced six sacks, part of a defense that ranked eighth in that category with a group total of 42. Johnson was undeniably aided by a front line that got a strong push up the middle led by Ndamukong Suh. Now the fourth-year defender is back with his original NFL team after an early-April trade that returned him to Tampa, and he stands to benefit from at least as much talent in the middle of the line, if not more.

The Buccaneers are banking on a lethal interior pass-rush generated by three-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and his defensive-tackle cohorts Clinton McDonald, Henry Melton and Akeem Spence. If that comes to pass as planned, the team will be able to get pressure off the edge from a rotation of mostly young and inexperienced defensive ends. Johnson, for instance, had played in a total of 11 NFL games before his breakout campaign in 2014. In a perfect world, he and Jacquies Smith (6.5 sacks as a first-year player for the Bucs last fall) would prove to be no flukes and would lead a strong edge rush by committee.

That approach involves keeping all of the committee members as fresh as possible.

Check out photos from George Johnson's breakout season with the Lions.

"No question we would like to have a good rotation across the line, so when we get to the fourth quarter our best guys are on the field in those key situations," said Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier. "We don't want to put George in a situation where he has to play 80 percent of the downs nor do we want even Gerald to play 80-90 percent of the downs. We would like to have enough depth where when we do take guys off the field to get a blow, we don't have a big drop off.

"Hopefully this year we will have the depth to do that. That includes George. I think he had [about] 600 snaps a season ago, so he may end up right around that range, again, a little bit more. That will probably depend on how well the other guys are playing around him as well."

Having used most of their last two drafts on offensive players, the Buccaneers are trying to shore up their defensive depth through free agency and, in Johnson's case, the trade market. The Bucs brought Johnson back to his original home in a swap of draft picks after originally trying to sign him away from the Lions as a restricted free agent. The Bucs used their top-10 pick in 2014 on wide receiver Mike Evans – who broke the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie – and then spent the #1-overall selection on potential franchise quarterback Jameis Winston less than three weeks ago. That approach left them looking for alternate ways to add kick to a defense that wasn't getting enough pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Bringing back Johnson was a key part of that effort, and so far he has been fitting in well.

"George seems to have integrated himself into what we are doing – some of the drills that we are working on right now, things he is familiar with," said Frazier. "He is somewhat familiar with the system. We have some excitement with what he has done and what he did in Detroit. He did a good job coming up with some big plays in spot situations.  We are going to try and get him a few more snaps here, we are hoping, but George is a guy we think will have a chance to make a difference for us on our defensive line. We are thinking a little bit more left, but he can play right as well. He is a guy that should give us a good pass rush."

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