COMMENTARY | Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved on offense during Greg Schiano's first season as coach in 2012, the defensive-minded leader realizes greater gains are required on defense to compete for the NFC South.
Despite possessing the league's best run defense, the Bucs' pass defense was equally bad and pressure was rarely applied to opposing quarterbacks last year.
To address those weaknesses, numerous moves were made during a busy offseason. The acquisition of Darrelle Revis is one of the franchise's historically bolder decisions, but other significant changes occurred, including free-agent signings, departures, and the return of injured players. Such shakeups created several position battles, always a more entertaining aspect of preseason football.
Opening the exhibition schedule against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday, August 8, several players must impress to secure a place on the 53-man roster.
Here's a look at five familiar veterans on defense competing to guarantee their future with the Bucs:
Adam Hayward, LB
As one of Tampa Bay's senior players, Hayward would be missed if a victim of the numbers game. Since scrapping his way on to the team as a sixth-round pick from tiny Portland State in 2007, this linebacker has become a steady contributor on special teams. While frequently sufficient for a place on a rebuilding club, difficult decisions annually deprive the kicking game of talented players. With veteran coach Dave Wannstedt now guiding special teams, the bonds of past success may prove less compelling.
Also working against Hayward is the diminishing likelihood that the 29-year-old earns more snaps at linebacker. No Buc emerged greater in 2012 than Lavonte David, who racked up 139 tackles and was a defensive leader as a rookie. Hayward is projected as David's backup, meaning he will rarely see the field.
The veteran may hope to receive a shot at the opposing linebacker position, but the younger Dekoda Watson and free-agent acquisition Jonathan Casillas are likely candidates on the strong side. Always an energetic performer, Hayward's role may depend on how much Schiano believes his veteran leadership is needed.
Derek Landri, DT
A free-agent import like Landri is typically safe during his first training camp with a new club, but the seven-year pro may have something to prove. Landri performed capably in limited time with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, but he underachieved last year when given more snaps. Signed to a 2-year, $3.25 million contract by the Bucs, the defensive tackle is projected behind Gerald McCoy, who enjoyed a breakout season last year. Though depth in the trenches is beneficial, Landri joins his fourth team in five years and salary could be a hindrance if competing with a younger player.Tampa Bay added the athletic Akeem Spence with a fourth-round pick, and the 22-year-old will battle veteran Gary Gibson for the spot beside McCoy. Other young players hoping to impress at tackle include Andre Neblett, Lazarius Levingston, and Matthew Masifilo. If Gibson (a Rutgers product) enjoys a stellar preseason, or a lesser-known tackle catches Schiano's eye, the 29-year-old Landri could become expendable. On the other hand, if the Bucs bring Spence along slowly, the veteran can prove his worth by earning time next to McCoy.
Cody Grimm, S
This second-generation player has reached his last chance with the Buccaneers, and a recent arrest for public intoxication did not help Grimm's cause. Drafted with a seventh-round pick in 2010, the undersized linebacker was converted to safety and quickly impressed by returning an interception for a touchdown in his fourth NFL contest. Despite a solid rookie campaign, the injury bug hit hard, and Grimm has prematurely concluded each of his three seasons on injured reserved.
Making the challenge more arduous is the expectation that safety is a strength for Tampa Bay. Starting spots will be filled by Mark Barron, a first-round selection in 2012, and new addition Dashon Goldson, who received a massive 5-year, $41.25 million contract. Grimm will compete for a backup role with third-year player Ahmad Black, who posted 36 tackles and 2 interceptions last year.
Also hoping for a job at safety is Keith Tandy, a 2012 sixth-rounder, and 24-year-old Sean Baker, who spent last season on the practice squad.
Myron Lewis, CB
It is clear that being an incumbent on the Bucs' secondary places one's job in jeopardy. Burdened with a pass defense that yielded 297 yards per game in 2012, the club hopes Revis and top draft pick Johnthan Banks provide a culture change at Raymond James Stadium. Corners already vanquished include Eric Wright, Aqib Talib, Brandon McDonald, and E.J. Biggers. Surprisingly surviving the purge, Lewis must distinguish himself to secure a roster spot.
Once showing strong potential at Vanderbilt, the Florida native has since demonstrated little in three campaigns for the Bucs. Lewis has not procured a single interception and his playing time has largely come on special teams. The 25-year-old finished last season on injured reserve and only accumulated six tackles in eight games. Clubs expect superior results from third-round picks. and it is difficult to envision a place for Lewis on the 2013 squad.
Andrew Economos, LS
Long snappers often enjoy careers matching the names given their positions. Economos has filled this duty for the Bucs since 2006 and could thrive another decade. So long as the ball ends up in the hands of the punter or field goal holder, Economos' job is done and little more is expected. Yet, despite serving as special teams captain for 2012, the Georgia Tech graduate is 31 years old and brings elevated injury risk traversing a chaotic kicking field.
For the second consecutive camp, Schiano signed long snapper Andrew DePaola to assist with the added kicking of preseason. A single snapper will land on the club, and Economos holds an edge as a proven veteran. However, DePaola is six years younger and may showcase superior athleticism for a new position coach. Familiarity with Schiano's expectations from previously handling this job for Rutgers can only help the former Scarlett Knight third-string quarterback.
Others: Anthony Gaitor, CB; Danny Gorrer, CB; Jacob Cutrera, LB; Gary Gibson, DT; Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE
Working against continued employment, Gaitor and Gorrer are both veterans of last year's disastrous secondary. Cutrera is valuable on special teams, but the LSU product is unlikely to earn playing time at middle linebacker, placing his job in jeopardy. Gibson actually possesses an opportunity to start at defensive tackle in place of the departed Roy Miller. Yet, if either Spence or Landri warrants increased playing time, such a role could be tenuous.
With 40 tackles and 4 sacks, Te'o-Nesheim exceeded expectations during his first full season with the Bucs in 2012. However, if starting defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers are healthy, opportunities are limited for the fourth-year player.
More by Jeff Briscoe for Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Greg Schiano
- Derek Landri
- Adam Hayward