There is tempered excitement at Buccaneers' training camp about the team's highly touted young group of defensive linemen.
GM Mark Dominik spent his first two picks in 2010 on DTs Gerald McCoy (No. 3 overall) and Brian Price (No. 35) and his top two selections this year on DEs Adrian Clayborn (No. 20) and Da'Quan Bowers (No. 51).
The Bucs envision a defense led by a havoc-wreaking front four serving as a swarming complement to an offense guided by QB Josh Freeman for many years to come. They're going to need good defensive play and a quality pass rush to compete in a division with potentially elite offenses led by Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks in Atlanta and New Orleans.
It became very clear last season, when McCoy started slowly and Price was placed on injured reserve after Week Five, that time and patience would be necessary before they lived up to high expectations, and the same can be said for the group heading into 2011.
Just how frequently McCoy, Price, Clayborn and Bowers will be on the field at the same time this season remains to be seen.
McCoy and Clayborn are the only definite starters, in 2011 at least, of the top four picks in the past two drafts. McCoy is the top three-technique and Clayborn is expected to start at right end. Roy Miller is the first-string nose tackle, ahead of Price, and Bowers will be in a platoon at left end with Michael Bennett.
Expectations are highest for McCoy, who had his '10 season cut short by a biceps tear that he underwent surgery to repair. The buzz from Tampa indicates he arrived at camp in better shape and more mature, but he didn't play in the first preseason game and hasn't practiced since suffering a strained rotator cuff Aug. 5. The Bucs are calling him day-to-day. Price, who also didn't play in the preseason opener, is still recovering from surgery to repair a pelvic fracture and is not 100 percent yet. He could be used in the sub package as a third-down rush specialist when he's ready to contribute.
The good news for the Bucs is Bowers, who fell in the draft because of medical concerns — he underwent offseason knee surgery — hasn't been limited much and looks explosive, according to camp observers.
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