JOVAN HAYE (Starter)
STATISTICS: 97 tackles, 6 sacks, tied for NFL lead with four fumble recoveries.
ANALYSIS: Haye went into the season as the starter at under tackle and an unknown quantity. There was little reason to believe he would be dominant at the position. He wasn't, but he was certainly an upgrade over the players he replaced, Anthony McFarland and Ellis Wyms. He's undersized for the position, and that becomes a liability in run defense. But against the pass his speed became a real asset, as he regularly collapsed the pocket and helped herd quarterbacks toward his teammates. He also showed great instincts in finding loose footballs and recovering them.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He is a restricted free agent and the Bucs are unlikely to let him leave. He needs to add a little bulk in the upper body and become a better run defender. But he has the fundamentals to play the position and the versatility to move elsewhere in the future.
CHRIS HOVAN (Starter)
STATISTICS: 95 tackles, 1 ½ sacks, 1 fumble recovery.
ANALYSIS: Hovan's job is to take up the gap between the center and the left guard and he does it so capably that hardly anyone notices. That's fine by Hovan, who had his finest statistical season in Tampa Bay. He's never come close to 100 tackles in his career. The fact that he was able to make so many meant that when offenses chose to run at Hovan, they didn't get far. He came out on some passing downs as the Bucs developed a solid pass rush package on third downs that required Hovan to give up his position to players like Greg White. He never complained.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He'll count $2.9 million against the salary cap. He's a team leader and a solid presence in the interior of the line. He's a perfect fit for the scheme and he's not going anywhere.
GREG PETERSON (Backup)
STATISTICS: 19 tackles, 1 ½ sacks. Ended the season in injured reserve.
ANALYSIS: Peterson got some playing time early in the season as the defensive coaching staff tried to sort through its options on defense. Peterson showed some early versatility, playing both inside positions and creating some pressure. The emergence of Haye and White stunted his playing time and he spent most of the second half of the season on special teams or inactive. Still, he showed some flashes of being a better player than most thought the Division II star would be.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's due $418,000 in 2008. He'll need to improve his bulk and his consistency up front. The Bucs will also need to continue to cross-train him at both inside positions, though the Bucs clearly see him as a potential inside tackle.
RYAN SIMS (Backup)
STATISTICS: 23 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss.
ANALYSIS: Some thought that a chance of scenery might help the former Chiefs first round pick. But Sims appeared to struggle with staying in shape early in the year and was inactive the first half of the season. Once the Bucs started playing him, he became a serviceable backup for Haye and Hovan.
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: He's due $900,000 in the final year of his Chiefs contract. The Bucs will probably keep him, but his job will be on the line in training camp.
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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.