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Bucs expected to turn their attention to defensive ends, corners

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For the Tampa Bay Bucs, upgrades are needed.

As the Bucs prepare to close out their 2015 season Sunday against Carolina, there are several positions where the team simply has to be better. Of those, defensive ends and the secondary appear to be two of the main ones.

Tampa Bay improved from two wins in 2014 to six this year, but for some, that doesn’t appear to be enough, particularly with the Bucs playing a weak schedule.

The Bucs, who have drafted only one defensive player during the past two years (Kwon Alexander), may think it’s time to turn their attention to the defense. Tampa Bay did attempt to shore up end at corner through free agency in coach Lovie Smith’s first season, but ends Michael Johnson and George Johnson have not worked out, nor has cornerback Alterraun Verner.

“It’s been kind of up and down,” Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of his ends. “Part of it due to the injuries with (Jacquies Smith), which has had a lot to do with it. We’re really counting on him to come along for us. George Johnson’s play has been a little bit inconsistent for us as well. Will Gholston has been pretty solid in the way we have used him at the end position.

“It’s been mixed. You are always looking for that one guy that creates a threat for the opposing offense at the defensive end position. We’ve gotten some good work, [but] it’s an area where we want to get better at for sure.”

Lately, the Bucs’ secondary has played more man coverage than it likes, Frazier said.

“We have tried to play quite a bit of man because of the type of games we’ve been in: so many close games,” Frazier said. “You have to mix in some man and even some pressure at times. I can’t just point to the fact that we are not as much zone [coverage] as we would like to be. We’ve had some opportunities and we just haven’t, sometimes, come up with the ball.

“We’ve had some dropped balls. We’ve had some opportunities to punch the ball out and we didn’t get it done or we’ve had, like mentioned a moment ago, a penalty at a critical time when it comes to a turnover. We just got to get it done. I don’t think there are any excuses other than we haven’t gotten it done. We’ll have an opportunity on this Sunday to get it done.”

The Bucs will have their hands full Sunday afternoon against Carolina’s Cam Newton. The game starts 4:25 p.m. in Charlotte.

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Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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