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Bucs’ defensive line aims to increase its sacks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton during a game in 2014.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton during a game in 2014. AP

It might be difficult to put a value on those double-digit sack artists.

Some would argue they are just as important as a .300 hitter, 30-homer guy or 20-game winner. Others say if a sack comes after 3.8 seconds the credit goes to the coverage guys.

But history has shown those double-digit sackers make for winning seasons.

The Tampa Bay Bucs are a prime example. They haven’t had someone hit the mark since Simeon Rice put 14 quarterbacks on the ground in 2005.

The Bucs are the only team since then not to have a double-digit sacker, with Gerald McCoy coming the closest in 2013 with 9.5 sacks.

After 2005 the Bucs made the playoffs only once and had only three winning seasons. This decade of misery includes five straight last-place finishes in the NFC South over the past five years.

Warren Sapp and Rice, the Bucs’ top two all-time sack leaders, played on their Super Bowl championship team.

The Bucs would like to see a double-digit sack guy, but it’s arguably just as important to increase the team total because they feed off each other.

Led by Denver’s 52, the top six teams and nine of the 10 with the most sacks made the playoffs last season. Tampa ranked 15th with 38.

Bucs defensive end Robert Ayers says being efficient on the defensive line involves a multiple array of intangibles and tangibles, citing a measure of physicality, determination and smarts.

“It’s not all about physical guys. You have to be in the right place, your gap, your technique, everybody has to work together,” Ayers said. “So times like this (mini-camp) where we come together, work on our chemistry and get a feel for each other are important.”

Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is tired of all the rhetoric.

“It comes down to us being the players and being mature enough pros to say, ‘You know what? If this is what we want to be then this is what we have to go after to be,’” McDonald said. “It’s time for us to step up and elevate our game, to kind of meet the needs of what’s going here."

To help put things in motion the Bucs brought in Jay Hayes from Cincinnati, considered the guru of defensive line coaches.

McDonald played for Hayes in Cincinnati and knows him better than the rest of the Bucs’ defensive linemen, which is why he is singing the most praises.

“He’s a proactive coach. He teaches you how to use your tools for the most part,” McDonald said. “He emphasizes your hands, your footwork, things that you really need to break away, get a sack or get a tackle or something like that. He says, ‘If you can do the small things right, the big things are going to be easy to do.”

Ayers is impressed with Hayes’s bottom line.

“Look at this resume. All of the great players from Geno Atkins to Justin Smith to all of those guys he’s coached and look at Cincinnati’s D-line,” Ayers said. “He’s not coaching just from a guy who studied the game, he’s coaching from a guy that played the game, so that’s great.”

Hayes is the orchestrator, but the Bucs have quite a few players who are capable of hitting that charmed mark, and they are hungry. Jacques Smith, McCoy, McDonald, Noah Spence and Ayers are just a few of the guys who want to increase their sack total and, more importantly, know if the Bucs’ defense is going to show significant progress it has to start up front.

There should be no shortage of motivation for defensive linemen to get to the quarterback. When it comes to fame and fortune, sack artists are the quarterbacks of the defense. They make the big money get showered with accolades.

The top two all-time leaders Bruce Smith and the late Reggie White reside on the Mount Rushmore of NFL defenders, and current players JJ Watt, Aldon Smith and Von Miller have become household names.

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