By Jeff Berlinicke
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – He doesn't get the attention of his Pro Bowl teammates on the defensive side of the ball, but he might be the most consistent.
After several years of Pro bowls, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, and Ronde Barber deservedly get the accolades, but it wouldn't be going too far out on a limb to say that the best defensive player on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is Greg Spires. If he isn't the best yet, he is the future of a defense that, once one of the best in the NFL is clearly on the downside.
Spires, an eight-year veteran from Florida State, is a defensive end who has also been seeing time at defensive tackle as the Bucs complete their first week of summer camp at Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports. He had a career high eight sacks last season, but the Bucs were getting beaten by the run all season after losing Warren Sapp to free agency and Booger McFarland to an injury.
So Spires said it really doesn't matter how often he gets to the quarterback as long as opposing backs aren't bursting through the middle for big gains.
"We have to put a stop to that,'' Spires said. "We're on top of the game as far as passing, but we have definitely got to make those running backs scared to come to Tampa Bay.''
At 6-1, 265, Spires is nowhere near big enough to plug the hole in the middle, but he's willing to give it a shot. He started the final three games of the 2004 season at tackle and was flawless.
"We have just got to find some way to stop them,'' Spires said. "We have to get them into third and long, second and long, not second and three. That's when they started pounding the ball against us.''
The facts bear him out. The Bucs had the fifth-best defense in the NFL last season in terms of yards, but while they led the league in pass defense, they finished 19th against the run and ended up with a 5-11 record.
That's why Spires reported to camp promising to stop worrying about sacks as much as stopping the run. He said he'd like at least 10, but if it helps the team he won't be selfish.
Spires is also getting work inside due to his talented backup at defensive end, Dewayne
White who greatly improved as last season came down the stretch. White also has been sharp in camp and some shuffling up front could give White a started job at one end and Rice on the other if Spires continues to learn the tackle sop, a position he never played until last season. Rookie Chris Hovan is at the top of the depth chart to play alongside Spires, but given coach Jon Gruden's distaste for rookies, it is conceivable that Spires may move to the middle.
"They aren't going to run on us this year,'' Spires said. I'll go wherever they want me.''
Spires Doing Whatever It Takes
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