TAMPA – A Buccaneers pass rush that was “non-existent’’ according to Bucs coach Dirk Koetter during Tampa Bay’s loss to the Browns in that supposedly all-important third preseason game could get a boost from defensive end Jacquies Smith a lot sooner than many thought it would.
The oft-injured Smith has been out since suffering a set-back in his recovery from 2016 season-ending knee surgery just before the start of training camp, but it appears he could be ready to go sometime here in the first month of the season.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in an interview with former Bucs cornerback and current television analyst Ronde Barber during the WFLA Channel 8 broadcast of Thursday’s Bucs-Redskins game that Smith is very close to returning to action.
“He’s going to be ready to go early in the season,’’ Licht said. “There is an opportunity that he could be on that 53-man roster next week.’’
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter further confirmed the possibility of Smith returning in the next couple of weeks, and that’s big news for the Bucs, who generated a whopping seven sacks during the preseason, including just two by defensive ends.
By the way, one of those two defensive ends to record a sack, George Johnson, has already been told he will not make the team, which further suggests the Bucs feel confident Smith will be back on the field for them sooner rather than later.
Johnson was officially waived on Friday along with long snapper Andrew De Paola. At the same time, the Bucs placed defensive end DaVonte Lambert (wrist) and defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (knee) on injured reserve, reducing their roster to 86.
Smith was one of the first really good finds Licht uncovered after first taking over as the Bucs GM back in 2014. Signed just days after he was let go by the Bills that year, Smith wound up starting seven games and recording 6.5 sacks for the Bucs that season.
He had seven sacks in 12 games in 2015, when he spent the second half of the season battling ankle and hamstring issues, then went down with the knee injury on the first series of the first game of the 2016 season against Atlanta.
The Bucs are hoping that with Smith and Noah Spence working opposite one another and Robert Ayers working inside alongside Gerald McCoy on passing downs they can put a little more pressure on the quarterback this year and avoid having to blitz to generate a viable pass rush.