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The defensive line will see plenty of rotation under new position coach Joe Cullen, but somebody has to be the first one out there. And while big-ticket free agent Michael Johnson will start on at right defensive end, the picture is not so clear on the left side.
Returning starter and former first-round pick Adrian Clayborn would seem like the favorite to win the job, or perhaps even the Bucs’ second-round pick the same year, Da’Quan Bowers. But offseason comments from new head coach Lovie Smith make it sound like the new sheriff in town isn’t particularly enamored with either player at the moment.
The new regime could look to a pair of younger pass-rushers to step up. William Gholston and Steven Means were also members of the same draft class, though much later picks than Clayborn and Bowers were.
Gholston showed steady improvement throughout his rookie season in 2013 and has the size and length to fit what Smith is looking for at the position. Means didn’t see the field much in 2013, but Smith is reportedly very excited about his potential.
Though conventional wisdom would say that Clayborn keeps his starting job, the team has already declined his fifth-year option for next season, which could be writing on the wall. Gholston may be a dark horse, but he’s my pick to run away with the spot.