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Overview: Defensive line

TAMPA, Fla. -- Our series of position-by-position overviews continues with the defensive line.

Looking back: The interior of the defensive line was one of the team’s biggest bright spots. Gerald McCoy made an argument that he’s the best defensive tackle in the game and rookie Akeem Spence was thrown in as a starter and turned in a solid season. McCoy, with help from the linebackers, was able to give the Bucs a decent pass rush. But the play of the defensive end wasn’t nearly as good. The Bucs made a huge miscalculation when they let Michael Bennett leave as a free agent, thinking that Da'Quan Bowers was ready to be an every-down player. But Bowers failed to win the starting job and wasn’t a factor. Adrian Clayborn played the run solidly and produced 5.5 sacks and rookie William Gholston was starting opposite Clayborn by the end of the year.

Looking ahead: The Bucs are set in the middle with McCoy and Spence, but they have to get better on the outside. Clayborn is a quality player, but I don’t know that he’ll ever be a dynamic pass-rusher. That might be the one quality that’s separating this defensive line from being one of the best in the league. New coach Lovie Smith comes from a defensive background and likes to have a strong pass rush. The Bucs could use an early draft pick to beef up the pass rush. Or they could look to free agency. If Minnesota’s Jared Allen becomes available, Tampa Bay would be a logical landing spot because former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is the defensive coordinator.