Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gerald McCoy Only Needs One Thing: Time

It's a well known fact in the NFL it takes much longer for defensive linemen to adapt to the game than most other positions.  Not only is the game faster and the opponents bigger, the guy across the line has experience.  And not just experience, but NFL experience, lining up against the best defensive linemen in the world week after week.  Offensive linemen get the benefit of knowing the snap count.  Add in the complex schemes offenses use in the NFL and there is just a lot to learn when you play defensive line in the NFL.

And, pretty much, the only way to really learn it is to play.

And statistics bear this out in general. Taking the Buccaneers first seven opponents as examples, I took the starting defensive linemen and figured their average age. I then organized them by how many rushing yards per game the team allows. Not surprisingly, the average years of experience tracked the number of yards given up in the running game. There are exceptions:  In the 8 listed here, the Bengals and the Cardinals buck the trend -- but the other 75% of my example demonstrates the relationship.

Years of DL
NFL RankTeamRushing Yards/
Starting Defensive Linemen
58.9(A. Smith (12), C. Hampton (10), N. Eason (8))
6.75#8Saint Louis
97.8(C. Long (3), F. Robbins (11), G. Gibson (2), J. Hall (11))
5.30#16New Orleans
108.6(A. Brown (9), S. Ellis (3), R. Ayodele (4))
111.3(K. Coleman (9), A. Rubin (3), B. Schaefering (1))
119.0(C. Johnson (4), E. Johnson (2), D. Landri (4), E. Brown (2))
120.7(R. Gaethers (7), D. Peko (5), T. Johnson (7), J. Fanene (6))
143.1(C. Campbell (3), B. Robinson (14), D. Dockett (7))
2.25#30Tampa Bay
149.4(K. Moore (2), G. McCoy (1), R. Miller (2), S. White (4))

If you accept this trend generally, then the top half of the league averages just over 5 seasons of NFL play across the defensive line.

Fear not, Buccaneer Fan, this does not mean it will take Gerald McCoy five seasons to be a top-flight defensive tackle.  On the contrary: if you believe the same group of defensive linemen will still be in Tampa one year from now, then the average experience of the group will be 3.25 years.  Based on the information in the table above, next year the Buccaneers rushing defense should improve from around 150 yards/game to about 115 yards/game -- a massive improvement of about 35 yards/game which in itself may not sound like much, but in game situations it can be a significant improvement not only in field position but also in putting the opposing team into more 3rd and long situations.  Believe me when I say it is very common knowledge in the front offices of the NFL how the second and third years for defensive lineman are giant steps forward.

Unfortunately, with Brian Price going to IR this week, the Buccaneers will not get a first year of experience under the belts of their top two picks from the 2010 draft.  Again, I tell you, fear not.  For proof of what a first year player can do, look no further than Defensive Tackle Roy Miller and his excellent rookie season.

I know it's hard to watch an opposing running back break the occasional big gain on a defense we have watched dominate for over a decade.  Just remember the team is 5-2 now and playing for the lead in the NFC South today, so obviously the rest of the team is making it work while the young defensive line works through their growing pains.

Keep the faith, because when the experience gets there, the return to dominance will be fun to watch!

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