Tampa has seven spots open on their defensive line but three will be taken by pro bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Super Bowl Champion DT Clinton McDonald and free agent defensive end Michael Johnson. A fourth spot for a defensive tackle is likely, leaving three spots for defensive ends.
Michael Johnson had a great year in 2012 playing next to Geno Atkins. In 2013, with Geno hurt, Michael's numbers plummeted, however Lovie Smith feels Johnson will be the player to turn one of the worst pass rushing teams in the league into one of the best. Still, Johnson's contract is the 8th highest DE contract in the NFL and there are at least 10 players Johnson's age who have performed better for less money. His contract means he will get the benefit of the doubt especially in the next two years while his money is guaranteed, but that doesn't mean a young DE can't take his playing time.
Means has the speed and size to be a pass rushing DE or a pass rushing outside linebacker for Tampa. However the new Tampa coach has signaled with the signing of Johnson that he won't wait to develop their DE #2, that job has to be earned today. Outside of Johnson, only Adrian Clayborn has guaranteed money for 2014 and both Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers will become free agents after this season. With no guaranteed money on the table, (outside of Clayborn and Johnson) it means anyone can get cut, Means will have to show the coaches that he deserves to be a major part of the 2014 Buccaneers.
The Median DE at Tampa is 6'4, 280 pounds, 3.6 pounds per inch. Means at 6'3 260 is the lightest DE on roster, and is the 3rd smallest at 3.46 pounds per inch. Means however is bigger in pounds per inch than Michael Johnson, so his size allows him to fit in the Tampa rotation as Johnson's (pass rushing DE) backup, while bigger DEs like Ronald Talley (6'3 286) and Da'Quan Bowers (6'4 288) can play a DE/DT hybrid role.
Despite his size Michael Johnson put up a team 2nd best 28 bench press reps at his combine. Means only put up 21 reps, 3 short of the team average. With his smaller size, Means will have to work on his strength to take on NFL tackles and to compete with Michael Johnson. Means was also weak in the 3 cone drill, an important drill for defensive ends, Means finished .06 seconds behind the average, but .16 seconds better than Michael Johnson.
Means was better than average in 40-yard dash, Vert jump, Broad jump and 20-yard Shuttle. His 4.68 40 time was the fastest on the defensive line before rookie Chaz Sutton posted a 4.67 this year. Means' 38.5 inch Vert and 128 inch broad jump are both tied with Michael Johnson for best of the DEs and Means' 4.31 second 20-yard shuttle is third behind Adrian Clayborn's 4.13 and Scott Solomon's 4.25.
Means is a physical freak which has Tampa fans eager to see him with a bigger role in the new Tampa defense. However, to get the QB on his back at the pro level, Means will need to work on his strength and footwork. Which explains why he struggled on the bench press and the 3-cone drill. This summer, his improvement on those two areas could be the difference between a major role and no role for Means in the Tampa defense.
Five Buccaneer DEs had 19 or more sacks in college: Clayborn and Johnson, 19, Bowers & Means, 19.5 and Solomon 24. However only three had more than .4 sacks per game: Means, .406 sacks per game, Solomon .511 sacks per game and Bowers .513 sacks per game.
In the NFL, only two Buccaneers have more than 10 career sacks, Clayborn with 13.5 and Johnson with 26.5. Sacks per game is low as well, Johnson has .334 and Clayborn leads the Buccs with .385 sacks per game. In comparison, the elite pass rushers in the league are sacking at a much higher rate, Mario Williams at .671 sacks per game and Clay Matthews at .724.
Lovie Smith and Frazier, have coached Julius Peppers, and Jared Allen, who have for their careers averaged .639 and .818 sacks per game. The Tampa defense will be expected to produce a half sack per game player. All signs point to Johnson, but if he is the focal point of the opposing teams blocking scheme, then it really opens up opportunity for Tampa's DE #2 to shine in 2014.
As far as I'm concerned, this is the make or break year for Steven Means. With the expiring contracts and a new coaching staff, if he plays to his potential, he could be a favorite to start in 2015, if he doesn't he could be regulated to a support role while Tampa searches for a more impactful replacement.
In the end the DE competition in Tampa will be about finding the man who can turn the corner and get to the QB. The man who can chase down RG3, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson, outsmart Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Carson Palmer and has the strength to bring down Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton will get playing time in Tampa. Means has the skills to be that man, but he has to show it on the field this year.