Who will be ‘sackmaster’ for the Bucs?

by Gary Shelton on August 29, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Will McCoy be the team's sack master again?./JEFFREY S. KING

Will McCoy be the team's sack master again?./JEFFREY S. KING

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Everyone gets the quarterback link. If a team has a great quarterback, it has a great chance at a championship.

Defenses are that way, too. Oh, not every year anymore, not with the rules leaning so heavily toward offense. But most of the time, the great teams have great defenses.

Most great teams have tough offensive linemen, and dangerous wide receivers, and corners who can steer the opponents to the other side of the field. Most have solid kickers.

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Gholston needs a better pass rush./JEFFREY S. KING

Gholston needs a better pass rush./JEFFREY S. KING

On the other hand, there remains a corollary between Super Bowl teams and great pass rushers.

It is one of the game's truisms. The old Packers had Willie Davis, and the Jets had Gerry Philbin, and the Chiefs had Bobby Bell and the Colts had Bubba Smith. The Cowboys had Bob Lilly and the Dolphins had Bill Stanfill and the Steelers had Joe Greene. The Raiders had Ted Hendricks and the Redskins had Dexter Manley and the 49ers had Charles Haley. The Bears had Dan Hampton and the Giants had Lawrence Taylor and the Broncos had Von Miller.

And so on.

Almost every champion had someone, someone who could hurry the quarterback, someone who could harass the opposition. Besides a turnover, the sack is the most devastating weapon a defense has. It strips down and distance from the opponent, and it usually stops a drive by itself.

This, of course, is why Dirk Koetter was disappointed in his team's pass rush on Saturday night in a 13-9 loss to Cleveland. The Bucs generally cover well enough, and they tackle better than most. But will they be able to put pressure on the opponent? We'll see.

Certainly, the good Bucs' teams have. Remember that worst-to-first season in 1979? Lee Roy Selmon had 11 sacks that year. He wasn't the only weapon the Bucs had, but he was the best one.

After that, a lot of years went by before the Bucs really mattered again. It was 1997, and it was the second season of Tony Dungy as head coach. The Bucs finally slipped into the playoffs that year. Much of the reason was the 44 sacks of Tampa Bay, including 10 ½ by Warren Sapp and 10 by Chidi Ahanotu.

In those days, the Bucs' defensive line used to compete for the title of "sack master." It was quite the race to the quarterback in those years. Sapp, Ahanotu and Marcus Jones all had double-digit sacks.

Maybe the best year was 1999, the year the Bucs made it to the NFC title game and lost to St. Louis. That year, Sapp had 12 ½ sacks. Sapp had 16 ½ the next year, but the team lost in Philadelphia.

Then there was 2002, the year Jon Gruden got the team over the hump. Part of the reason, of course, was the 15 ½ sacks of Simeon Rice, a player many think should have won the Super Bowl MVP trophy. If you count the post-season, Rice had 19 ½ sacks that year.

Rice had 41 sacks over the next three seasons before the Bucs cut him. The problem is, they haven't replaced him.

Since then, it hasn't taken much to lead the Bucs in sacks. No one has reached double figures since Rice.

That leaves this year's pass rush in the hands of Gerald McCoy, and Noah Spence and Robert Ayers and William Gholson and Chris Baker. McCoy hopes to have at least seven sacks for the fourth straight year.

Is it enough? Spence has speed, and McCoy has burst, and Ayers has pedigree.

For the Bucs to win, however, in a schedule loaded with good quarterbacks, someone is going to have to bring the heat. Who knows? Maybe someone will do what Rice used to do, or Sapp or Selmon.

If not, success is still possible to obtain.

You just don't have a sack to put it in.

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