One of the key elements in the Bucs’ off-season plans to make one last run in a Super Bowl during the “Tom Brady” era was the re-signing of veteran defensive lineman Will Gholston. Gholston, who had spent his entire nine-year career in Tampa Bay, was handed a one-year, $4.5 million contract after reaching an all-time high of 4.5 sacks in 2021. The Bucs felt that 31-year-old Gholston was still playing at a high level as they have committed to having him part of their defensive line in 2022 while not pursuing other 2021 pieces such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.
Unfortunately for both Gholston and the Bucs, his game in 2022 has taken a step back from the established levels that made him a fan favorite over the past decade. Averaging less than 30 snaps per game this year, Gholston, who made a name for himself as a punt-defending 4i linemen, has seen himself pushed off the line of scrimmage more often than in years past. In addition, his ability to rush the passer by 2022 has all but evaporated. Heading into the Bucs week 17 matchup with the Panthers According to Pro Football Focus, Gholston had logged just seven quarterback pressures on 191 pass rush snaps this season. That 3.7% pressure percentage would be the lowest of his career off-season 2017.
The Bucs defensive line has not reached its potential
When the Bucs built their updated internal defense line room this year, many, including myself, thought the unit could be formidable. With Vita Vea in the superstar role and Akiem Hicks against the “extremely talented if only he can stay sane” sidekick, Gholston would provide the consistent low spot just behind those two.
Add in rookie Logan Hall as the “rough ball with tools” and Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ high floor and you had enough skills that coalesced to give opponent strike attacks. But almost nothing came of that.
Vea’s pressure numbers have stabilized, but not increased, and he has progressed throughout the season from a slump early in the season to good later in the season. But he has also dealt with injuries that have knocked him out of some three full games recently.
Hicks struggled with his own injuries for much of the early part of the season. Since returning to the lineup in Week 9, he has been a consistent run defender who has enabled linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David to play fast and furious behind him. The improvement in the Bucs’ running defense is noticeable with Hicks on the field, but he’s made little to no impact himself as a pass rusher.
Hall has turned out to be a complete project this year (as many defensive linemen are these days). The Bucs have been unable to trust him to log important quality photos. Hall is still working on transforming his body, as he starred as a hybrid edge/interior lineman in college. With his listed playing weight of 283 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, he is bullied by opposing offensive linemen. The hope is that in 2023 he can level up with an extra 10-20 pounds of muscle added to his mass without sacrificing the explosiveness he showed when he came out of Houston.
Nunez-Roches and South Florida’s great Dedrin Senat delivered high-floor depth production along the home defense line that most didn’t expect early this year. And it was necessary in the absence of impact that has left the rest of the line.
Bucs DL Gholston played a key role in helping stop the Panthers
But on Sunday, Gholston was able to return to the level he had previously reached during his 10-year career with Tampa Bay. Gholston was all over Tampa Bay’s 30-24 victory over Carolina. Although he only recorded 24 snaps, he made them count one by one. Gholston recorded three solo tackles, added two more assisted tackles, had two tackles for loss, generated two quarterback pressures – a quarterback rush and a quarterback hit. The man was a threat throughout the game. He was consistently in the Panthers’ backfield, and no matter what Carolina tried to do, they couldn’t resolve the veteran Bucs defenseman.
On this play, Gholston is able to manipulate the left guard at their point of impact and quickly throw him to the ground. He is able to keep his eyes on the backfield while doing this, making him ready to jump on the running back’s cut for a tackle for loss.
Then you have this sequence of two games on the next disc. On the first game, you see Gholston never make a playoff despite his veteran status. He chases down Panthers receiver DJ Moore on the back and crashes into Moore with wrathless abandon.
On the next play, Gholston uses his long arms to control and move the left guard while cutting off D’Onta Formean’s ability to move the run out. Once Foreman made the decision to mow the field, Gholston was ready to take him down for a short win.
As a result of the inspired play from the Gholston and Tampa Bay defenses, Carolina ran just 74 yards on 22 carries (3.4 avg). The Panthers averaged 188 yards per game on the ground over the past three weeks.
Gholston will be an important part of any post-season run
If Tampa Bay is going to make any noise in the upcoming playoffs, it will take every part of their roster to meet their 90th percentile results. For a Bucs pass rush that will be starless outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, that means every other player steps up to be the best version of themselves.
Vea has the potential to be a game wrecker. Hicks can still flash that ability too, though I don’t think anyone can count on him right now. Edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has shown himself to be the team’s most consistent pass rusher in Barrett’s absence. And outside linebacker Anthony Nelson has shown a penchant for big plays at key moments.
In addition to all of these players being the best versions of themselves, the Bucs will have to rely on Gholston to give them the high-end production he showed against Carolina on Sunday to put together a playoff pass rush that will help to possible opponents like Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott or Kirk Cousins on the ropes. Gholston will need to be able to deliver 25-30 snaps per game with a strong running defense coupled with the ability to penetrate the pocket in passing situations.
#Bucs #Gholston #picked #great #time #game #season