GAINES ADAMS (Starter)
STATISTICS: 55 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles. Started eight games.
ANALYSIS: Adams took a lot of questions about his progress at the midpoint of the season, as it seemed he struggled with grasping the nuances of the pro game. He admitted to that somewhat, saying that learning how to use his hands against pro left tackles was a big road block. But he seemed to overcome that once he entered the starting lineup. His numbers, his pressure on the quarterback and his impact on the game increased in the second half of the season. He created big turnovers against Atlanta and Washington. He proved capable of sliding over to the left side to make room for Greg White on third downs. Plus, he began flashing pass rush moves in the season's latter stages. He definitely made progress. He's not dominant yet, but there's potential.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's scheduled to count $3.47 million against the salary cap. He'll need to improve his upper body strength and his inside pass rush moves to take the next step in 2008.
KEVIN CARTER (Starter)
STATISTICS: 73 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
ANALYSIS: The Bucs brought him on board to provide leadership to a young defensive line. But he showed that he's still a durable, hard-nosed player that can get to the quarterback wherever he lines up. His value to the Bucs was in his versatility. He played on the outside on first and second downs and moved inside on third down in the Bucs' pass rush package, which included White and Adams. He still has the presence and talent to dominate at times, but his days as a double-digit sack artist are behind him.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's signed for $3.8 million in 2008 — and it's all base salary. He'll return as a valuable part of the rotation, likely the left side starter opposite Adams.
GREG SPIRES (Backup)
STATISTICS: 43 tackles, 2 sacks.
ANALYSIS: Spires missed a good portion of the season due to a calf injury and lost his starting job in the process. Adams took his place on the right side. When Spires finally returned, he had re-entry problems in the Bucs' rotation. Still, until the injury, Spires was Spires — a solid base end who could stop the run from the back side and put pressure on the quarterback. At age 34, though, one has to wonder how much he has left.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: At $4.361 million, Spires has one of the largest cap bills on the team. The Bucs could release him, save some money and pursue a younger end. But the Bucs value his experience, and with plenty of cap space, there's no reason to release Spires unless the team simply believes he has nothing left to offer. That doesn't appear to be the case.
GREG WHITE (Backup)
STATISTICS: 50 tackles, team-leading 8 sacks, 7 forced fumbles (tied a team record).
ANALYSIS: And White did all that as a part-time player. He made just one start during the season. He settled into a third-down pass rush specialist role that seemed to suit him. His best move was a simple speed rush around left tackles to get to the back side of the quarterback. Most of the time White timed it so well he was able to force a turnover. He didn't appear to have any inside moves, but the speed rush was working for him, so why mess with success?
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He is an exclusive rights free agent, which means all the Bucs have to do is tender him a contract to keep him. White's progress in the offseason should be closely watched. There is a season's worth of tape on him now, so he won't take offensive coordinators or left tackles by surprise this year. He'll need to improve his pass rush repertoire and be ready to take on an increased role in the defensive scheme to take the next step.
PATRICK CHUKWURAH (Backup)
STATISTICS: 16 tackles, 1 sack. Also had 10 special teams tackles.
ANALYSIS: The speedy Chukwurah came to Tampa Bay to earn a spot in the pass rush rotation, but injuries sapped his effectiveness in 2007. He suffered three separate injuries, including a shoulder injury that pretty much ended his spot in the rotation. He mostly contributed on special teams in the latter stages of the season.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's signed for a cheap $760,000 cap figure, the second year of a five-year deal. It's still unclear, though, how he fits into this defense. Is he an edge rusher? Backup linebacker? Special teams star? His injuries kept the Bucs from deciphering his true worth, and they'll spend most of the offseason trying to figure that out.
MARQUIES GUNN (Backup, finished on practice squad)
STATISTICS: Spent the final 10 games on the practice squad.
ANALYSIS: The very definition of non-descript. Very little is known about what Gunn might have to offer.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's already been signed as a future free agent, so we're going to find out what he has to offer this offseason.
CHARLES BENNETT (Backup, finished on IR)
STATISTICS: Spent the entire season on injured reserve.
ANALYSIS: The 2006 draft pick — and former teammate of Gaines Adams — lost his chance to make an impact on his future due to his injury.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: The Bucs own his rights. The question is what will they do with them?
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.