State Of The Team - Defense
If you haven't read the post below this one, READ IT FIRST!! Then come back to this one.
Having said that, let's look at the defensive positions, having covered the offensive position already. With that we'll start on the defensive line. A real battle is apparently brewing here between Haye, Wyms, and Carter. Pewter Report has more details in several articles on this, but overall, it's looking like we'll be seeing much improved play from one of the most key positions on the defensive line. The Nose is pretty much set with Hovan, and deservedly so. Should be interesting to see if the other players draw enough attention to allow Hovan to get more heat on the QB this year. At the ends, Gaines Adams is primarily practicing at right DE in place of Rice, whose still not ready to constantly battle, and needs to save the shoulder for training camp. Chukwurah apparently is getting reps at the ends as well, and appears to be doing a good job. Spires will likely see his time split with Adams and Chukwurah if Rice comes back 100%. The battles here should greatly impact the defense as a unit, and Coyer is a tremendous DL coach who should be able to get similar results to Marinelli. I expect to see at least a 10 sack improvement out of this unit.
At Linebacker, the talent, and the raw speed, is gushing at the seams. With newcomers June, Black, and Hayward, adding to the talents of Brooks, Ruud, Winborn, and Nece, this unit is clearly one of the most talented, if not THE most talented, positions. The real interesting thing will be to see how often the Bucs decide to slip the 3-4 in to try to confuse QB's. June is probably a lock at Sam and Brooks will likely hold the Will for another year, though I wouldn't be totally shocked if Winborn got in on plays from time to time in place of Brooks to keep Derrick fresh, while giving Winborn more looks at the Bucs' most important 4-3 LB position. Ruud will likely start at middle, but Black could give him a run for his money. Black could also slide over to one of the other positions. Hayward will have to work to make the team, but he's got a good shot to make the club. Linebacker will not be a weakness this year, you can rest assured of that one.
At the corners, Kelly is coming back, but is still limited. If he's fully healthy for camp, it will greatly boost the corner back position. Barber is still Barber and he probably has a couple more strong years left in him. Buchannon will likely win the starting Nickel, has he appears to be an interception machine and will most often be paired with lesser receivers that he can easily cover. If Kelly can't go at any point in the season, Buchannon can step in and start and continue to play that position solidly. Davis is apparently looking pretty good, and will likely sew up the dime spot. Jackson will be battling it out with Hamilton, Cox, and Zemaitis for the 5th CB spot, though he may also go over to safety. Cox may not make the team, and Zemaitis needs to pick it up if he's going to be able to maintain a roster spot. We'll see where Hamilton ends up. No matter what happens, assuming this group stays healthy, the Bucs will be quite deep at Corner, and will be able to hang with any receiver trio in the league.
Finally, at safety, Phillips will be in a battle to retain his spot from Sabby Piscitelli. Sabby has a good shot at unseating him, and is apparently looking very good so far. I would be shocked if Sabby isn't at least splitting time with Phillips during the season. Allen looks like he may be returning to form, much like the corners, due to the presence of Morris as the DB coach. If Allen can start looking more like the promising safety we drafted, the position will be in good hands. If not, look for Jackson to get a shot to unseat him. Pearson and Nicholson probably won't make a dent here, but you never know. Safety play MUST improve over last year's pathetic showing. The Bucs have to be tougher to pass deep on, or it will continue to cause issues for the defense. I find it unlikely that we will see play as bad as last year. Morris is going to ride these guys, and Sabby can unseat Phillips if he doesn't improve.
So far, the team looks to have good talent and competition throughout the roster. The most important thing is that this team finally has depth at most positions. Unfortunately the depth is young and not highly experienced, but the talent level is at one of the highest we've seen for some time, and that alone can help if we have some more key injuries. Going forward I'll keep an eye on signings and make some comments as they occur. The real good stuff will start once training camp hits. I intend to be there for one of the sessions, as I've mentioned before, and should be able to post a lot of good info, pics, and even some video. Should be fun. Now if it was only here a little sooner...