Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1 of Training Camp's Best Battles Will Be at DT

Travis WakemanCorrespondent IIJune 8, 2013

Illinois product Akeem Spence, the Bucs' fourth-round selection, pursues an Ohio St. ball-carrier.
Illinois product Akeem Spence, the Bucs' fourth-round selection, pursues an Ohio St. ball-carrier.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 7-9 and at the bottom of the NFC South division in Greg Schiano's first year as the team's head coach. Still, the team is optimistic that it can turn things around in 2013.

One area the Buccaneers excelled at in 2013 was their run defense, giving up just 82.5 yards per game. They also allowed just 3.5 yards per carry, also best in the league. However, losing defensive tackle Roy Miller to Jacksonville via free agency will force the Bucs to find a capable replacement (via profootballtalk.com).

Gerald McCoy is entrenched as one of the team's defensive tackles following his Pro Bowl campaign last season. But who will line up next to him as the other interior defensive lineman?

The process to determine a starter opposite McCoy will be one of the more intriguing stories over the course of training camp this summer, and the Bucs have some good options to choose from.


Gary Gibson

Gibson is a seven-year veteran who played his first season with the Bucs in 2012 after spending the previous three with the St. Louis Rams.

Gibson was a starter for the Rams in 2010 and could use that experience to win this competition. He is a space-eating big man at 6'3" and 312 pounds and is very good against the run.


Akeem Spence

Spence skipped his senior season at Illinois to enter the 2013 NFL draft, and the Bucs selected him in the fourth round (100th overall).

Spence won't offer much from a pass-rushing perspective, but he is a physical player and a solid tackler who brings it against the run. He may not be a three-down player but he could still win the job.


Derek Landri

Landri will figure into this competition as well and will be given a shot to start. He is entering his seventh year in the league and will be playing for his fourth team.

As a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles, Landri has amassed 121 tackles and eight sacks in his career.

Spence and Gibson would have to be considered the favorites to win the job, but Landri did start every game for the Panthers in 2010 so he also has experience.

The team also has "Pep" Levingston, Andre Neblett and Matthew Masifilo on the roster—all of whom can play defensive tackle. But they would have to have spectacular training camps to move that far up the depth chart.

The Bucs gave up their sixth-round selection to move up 12 spots to take Spence. They see something in him they like, and if he can consistently demonstrate his talent in training camp, he should win this battle.

Every season since 2003, at least one team has gone from last place in their division to first place the following year. The Bucs, who tied with Carolina and New Orleans in the NFC South at 7-9, are probably well aware of that fact.

For the team to make such a transformation in 2013, stopping the run as well as they did in 2012 will be a huge part of the process. The player who comes out on top of this training camp battle will play a key role in that.