TAMPA — When the first depth chart of the season came out last week, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith cautioned fans against putting too much credence into it.
It is sure to change, Smith said, and one of the places where a lot of changes could take place, even during the course of a game, is along the defensive line.
Though the Bucs have all but settled on their four starters there, versatility, game situations and practice performance could lead to constant changes and a variety of looks that don’t jive with the depth chart.
For example, Adrian Clayborn is almost certain to start at left defensive end. How long he stays there once the game starts, however, will depend a lot on down, distance and the Bucs’ specific needs on a particular play.
That’s why Clayborn has taken almost as many snaps at defensive tackle as he has at defensive end during training camp. Smith knows what Clayborn can do as an end. What he needs to know is what he can do as a tackle.
“We’re a new staff and we want to give guys an opportunity to prove what they can do at as many positions as possible,’’ Smith said. “So yes, Adrian has been getting reps (at tackle).
“Now, can he play there? Yes, because it’s not that big of a difference, really. In fact, some guys will say it’s easier to get to the quarterback (when you’re playing tackle) because you’re closer (when you’re inside).
“And sometimes your defensive ends are a lot quicker, and if you put them inside and give them a couple of plays against a bigger, slower interior lineman, you (can get a better pass rush).’’
That thought is why it’s not just Clayborn who is getting work inside. Fellow ends Da’Quan Bowers, who is listed on the depth chart as a tackle behind Gerald McCoy, William Gholston and Steven Means are getting work inside, too.
That’s why fans should not be surprised if at some point the Bucs line up for a third-and-long play with McCoy and either Clayborn, Bowers, Gholston or Means working at the tackle spot next to him.
The depth chart might not suggest that will happen, but the depth chart doesn’t hold all the answers as to what the Bucs plan to do at any position, especially the defensive line.
The use of three tight-end sets is hardly a staple of NFL offenses, but for the rare team that can actually boast of having three capable tight ends, it is a potentially viable attack concept.
With Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker and Tim Wright, the Bucs believe they have the talent to make use of three tight-end sets, and Smith explains why it could add some pop to the offense.
“It definitely makes things harder for the defense, because you don’t know exactly where they’re all going to line up,’’ Smith said. “You could have (an) empty (backfield) with everyone at the line of scrimmage or a two-back set. There are a lot of options.
“That’s why (three tight-end sets) kind of limits you a little bit as far as your defense goes, because you can’t run too many exotic defenses with that if that’s what you want to do.
“The other thing it does is create a matchup problem outside. If you have a good tight end who’s pretty good in space, which we do, against a linebacker who’s not good in space, well, that should make you better. We have that flexibility.’’
There is still that small matter of proving he can perform at a high level on the field once the games start to count, but outside of that, Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford says he’s couldn’t be more pleased with quarterback Josh McCown.
At 35 years old and with not only 12 years of NFL experience but also a year of high school coaching experience at Marvin Ridge High in Waxhaw, N.C., under his belt, McCown has proven to be a coach’s dream.
“There’s nothing that doesn’t impress me about him,’’ Tedford said. “He’s a great leader, he’s very intelligent, he understands the game really, really well and he’s a student of the game.
“Physically he can make all the throws and he understands how to touch the ball and how to drive it. And he understands protections really well. He’s like another coach on the field, just a pleasure to work with.’’