TAMPA — Rookie DE William Gholston will make his second straight NFL start when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Much like the first, Gholston’s second start is coming somewhat out of necessity.
A knee injury that DE Da’Quan Bowers to miss last week’s game against the Rams in St. Louis has finally taken its toll. Bowers was placed on injured reserve Thursday after undergoing corrective surgery.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano referred to the surgery as a clean-up procedure, but no matter the characterization, it brought an early end to a season that was nothing short of disappointing.
The Bucs passed on an opportunity to re-sign 2012 sack leader Michael Bennett because they thought Bowers would be an improvement. From the first day of training camp, however, Bowers struggled to meet the team’s expectations.
He came to camp out of shape and ill-prepared for the role of an every-down end and lost the starting left end job to Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. As Te’o-Nesheim’s play has slid, though, Gholston’s has improved.
A healthy scratch early in the season, Gholston has since gone from being a sub-package defensive tackle to a player who could leap past Te’-o-Nesheim and Bowers on the depth chart if he can finish strong against New Orleans.
“He’s played well as a reliever, so I wanted to see how he’d handle a start, see if it was too big for him,’’ Schiano said. “Sometimes when a guy gets a start it changes his psyche a little bit, but it didn’t change William’s. He just went out and played ball and actually played pretty well.’’
Gholston recorded six tackles, including one for a loss, against the Rams. He has 29 tackles, including three for a loss, two sacks, four QB hits and three pass breakups on the year.
And at a time when a lot of young players are hitting a wall physically, Gholston said he feels strong enough to take advantage of his recent opportunity because he’s accustomed to playing meaningful games at this time of year.
A product of Michigan State, which played in a bowl game each of the three years he was there, Gholston said the NFL grind has not been too much for him.
“We were still practicing this time (the last couple years) and we had on full pads maybe the whole time except for a day or two,’’ Gholston said. “So, it hasn’t been too hard for me. And I’m really glad to get the chance to start and show that, because (starting) was one of my goals for the season.’’
Changing of the guard
Gholston might not be the only new addition to the starting lineup. A week after getting most of the snaps at left guard, Ted Larsen is expected to make his third start of the year at that spot against the Saints.
Larsen started two games at left guard earlier in the year in place of the injured Carl Nicks. This time, he’s in line to replace Jamon Meredith, who was pulled early against the Rams and did not return.
“I wouldn’t say it for sure, but there’s a good chance Ted will get the start,’’ Schiano said after Larsen took the bulk of the reps at left guard during practice on Thursday.
“Obviously no one has seized the position there, otherwise it would be locked in and it would be done. In Week 17, the fact that we are still fiddling around with that spot kind of speaks to that.’’
The Bucs were hoping Nicks would bounce back from a season-ending toe injury and satisfy their need at left guard, but a blister that became infected with MRSA and later required surgery ruined those plans.
The Bucs have since tried several players, including former Chicago Bears first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi, at left guard.
The Bucs could knock the Saints out of the playoffs by beating them on Sunday. That point has not been lost on Tampa Bay’s players, many of whom are treating this game as if it’s their playoff game.
Network officials flexed this game from its original 1 p.m. kickoff to 4:25 p.m. to show it to a larger audience.
“It’s going to have a playoff style to it,’’ DT Gerald McCoy said. “It’s not quite the playoffs, because no matter what happens, we don’t get to continue, but it will be a playoff type atmosphere. And it’s going to be huge. They flexed this game for a reason. It’s going to be a good game and I think they know that.”