Hidden gems will be key to improving Buccaneers pass rush


TAMPA – There is still a lot of concern among Buccaneers followers over the team’s failure to add a defensive end either in free agency or the draft. We’re not so sure, though, that the Bucs share that concern.

Now, we’re not suggesting the Bucs have more edge rushers than they know what to do with. That’s never the case. Pass rushers period are a lot like starting pitchers. You can never have too many.

But in Jacquies Smith and George Johnson, the Bucs do have a couple of defensive ends whom they still consider to be quite valuable, even though fans seem to have either forgotten about them or lost faith in them.

And we fully understand why they would. Smith and Johnson combined to play just one game last year (that by Smith) and neither has yet to establish himself as a starting-caliber player.

When given that chance two years ago Johnson failed miserably, recording no sacks in 433 snaps. He then missed all of last season with a knee injury while Smith did the same, save for the season opener.

When healthy, though, Smith has been one of the Bucs more effective pass rushers. He recorded 13.5 sacks in 27 games (18 starts) between 2014-15 and Johnson has had some success in that regard, too.

Remember, it was his six-sack season with the Lions in 2014 that prompted the Bucs to trade for Johnson in the first place and the Bucs still believe Johnson can produce at that level.

As long as they’re healthy then the Bucs believe Smith and Johnson can give them at least as much if not more than most rookie pass rushers would and if they’re right, their pass rush could be one of the league’s best.

That may seem like a bit of a stretch, especially for a team that hasn’t had a single player record 10 sacks or more since 2005, but the Bucs aren’t as far off from that level as some think.

A year ago, for example, the Bucs recorded 38 sacks. That’s probably a dozen less than they hoped for, but only eight teams recorded more with the league leader, Arizona, recording 48.

Now, we know that sacks are not the only way to determine the strength of a pass rush, but it is a very telling stat and there’s reason to believe the Bucs pass rush could be one of the league’s best this year.

Remember, the Bucs are expecting emerging second-year end Noah Spence to be better this year and for defensive tackle Chris Baker to add a little more oomph to the unit as well.

If those expectations are met and the Bucs can get a little more help from Smith and Johnson, the whole of their pass rush could prove to be far better than the sum of its parts and quite strong indeed.



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