The Carolina Panthers' big acquisition at defensive end last week paid immediate dividends against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend.
No, not that guy. The other guy!
See, while we were all over-analyzing the potential ramifications of the Panthers' trade for former Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, Carolina also plucked an undrafted free agent off of Washington's practice squad last week. This guy hadn't done anything yet in the NFL, but I'm sure the Panthers were just as intrigued as I was with this kid's pass rushing ability.
You might be asking yourself why I would be familiar at all with an UDFA who was on the practice squad of a team that I don't even have a rooting interest in.
Yeah, about that.
What had happened was, I actually attended the game here in Tampa this past Sunday as part of a celebration of my teammate Mike Alstott's induction into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor. For that reason, I and the rest of the attendees, of course, missed parts of the game. I did see enough of the offense to know Jameis Winston had one of those Southwest Airlines "Wanna get away?" type of performances, as rookie quarterbacks are prone to having. I also noticed that he got sacked several times, but I didn't necessarily note who was taking Winston down. Didn't really seem relevant at the time.
I happened to check Twitter when I got home and a Bucs fan tweeted me, or rather tweeted about me, saying that I "told everybody about Delaire long ago." Now that name did sound familiar, but my memory ain't what it used to be, so it didn't hit me right away where I knew it from. Of course, the competitor in me wouldn't just let it go, so I ended up Googling the name. What do I see? That this defensive end named Ryan Delaire, an undrafted free agent out of Towson, had been with the Bucs this offseason and throughout training camp. He actually lasted until the last round of cuts.
All of a sudden it came back to me.
I didn't really know his name as much as I knew his jersey number a month ago, and that's because No. 75 aka Ryan Delaire made quite an impression on me in the Bucs' last preseason game against the Dolphins. He flashed some really nice moves with his hands, and he knew how to turn his hips toward the quarterback as he was rushing the passer. Those are two of the areas where many pass rushers coming out of college these days are most deficient. That's why when I see a guy doing both it stands out to me on film.
The guy who tweeted me remembered Delaire because after I rewatched that preseason game, I highlighted young Mr. Delaire as having shown a lot of potential. I felt pretty strongly that he should at least get a practice squad spot. You just don't find guys with that kind of pass-rush potential growing on trees.
Either the Bucs, or Delaire, or both didn't agree with me, so instead he took his talents to D.C., where he remained on Washington's practice squad until last week.
There is a lot of irony in Delaire being signed to the Panthers' active roster just in time to ball out against Tampa. It just so happens that on Sunday the Bucs decided to bench one of their starting defensive ends, George Johnson, whom they signed away from the Lions this past spring. To be fair, neither Johnson nor the guy who replaced him in the starting lineup, William Gholston, are big-time pass rushers. Still, I imagine after watching Delaire apply heat to their own quarterback, the Bucs are second guessing the decision to release him now as they are still trying to find someone who can rush the passer opposite Jacquies Smith.
Thing is, Delaire didn't just make a couple of fluke plays on Sunday. Like, this kid flashed a lot more than Allen did and looked like he belonged on the field just as much as a Pro Bowler. Not only that, Delaire also showed above average pass-rush ability from both sides of the line, which isn't as common as a lot of people think. In fact, he got one sack apiece from either side of the line while playing against his former teammates.
Delaire's first sack came while he was lined up at left defensive end early on in the third quarter. He got a good jump off the snap, which forced Bucs right tackle Gosder Cherilus to bail out of his stance to protect against a speed rush. Delaire then executed a spin move that wasn't quite perfect, but just good enough to get him free so he could sack Winston for a loss of 8 yards.
That was a huge play because the Bucs defense had just recovered a fumble from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on the first play of the second half. The Bucs were already at the 18-yard line, and not only did that sack serve to prevent the Bucs from attempting to score a touchdown on that drive, it also ended up moving them back just far enough for their kicker, Kyle Brindza, to pee down his leg and miss the ensuing field goal.
The score at the time was 17-10, by the way. Had the Bucs tied it up there, or at least gotten three points, who knows how the rest of the game would have gone? Instead, they got their brains beat in.
For an encore later on in the third quarter, Delaire lined up at right defensive end in place of Allen and got Winston on the ground again. This time he flashed that window-wiper-to-rip move that I saw him use so effectively during the preseason finale to beat Bucs rookie left tackle Donovan Smith like a drum. Winston either saw or felt Delaire coming around the corner, but just wasn't quite fast enough to get away. The dude has some wheels too, which he used to dive and catch Winston from behind for his second sack of the day.
So Delaire ends up with two sacks in his first ever NFL regular season game and, truth be told, he should've had a third. With a little over four minutes left in the game, Delaire lined up at right defensive end and beat Smith again with pretty much the same move. Once again, Delaire got to Winston while the quarterback still had the ball in his hands. This time, however, Winston tried to pull a fast one and throw the ball away before his knee touched the ground. The ball didn't make it to the line of scrimmage, which prompted an intentional grounding flag from the officials.
It was a bit unfortunate for Delaire as well, because even though the Bucs ended up losing yardage as if Winston was sacked, Delaire did not get credit for a sack. Just doesn't seem fair, does it?
Anyway, Delaire also played pretty well against the run during the course of the game. He had a tackle for loss in the first half on a play where he showed some really nice technique in beating Bucs tight end Brandon Myers' block by "back dooring" it and still being athletic enough to get down the line and wrap up Bucs running back Doug Martin, with the help of his teammate Kony Ealy, before Martin could reach the line of scrimmage. That's an impressive play for anybody, let alone a rookie UDFA from Towson playing in his first game.
In light of all that, I'm awarding my Hoss of the Week Award this week to Ryan Delaire. Not only did he exact a bit of revenge on the team that cut him this preseason, he also may have shown the Panthers that they didn't actually need to trade for Jared Allen after all. Of course, going forward he's going to have to be consistent, but for now, for this week, Delaire damn sure looks like the real deal to me.