Unless you're Tom Brady, the best years of your football life usually take place in your 20s. Even if you start slowly to begin your career, non-quarterbacks hit their prime in their mid-20s or so.
The nine-year vet and second-longest tenured Buccaneer is experiencing the best start to a season in his career one year after his most productive campaign. Gholston has followed up his three-sack, 20-quarterback hit performance from 2020 with two sacks and five QB hits through the first four games of this season.
"As far as my play, if you look at my career production from the beginning to now, I feel I'm more productive of a defensive lineman than I was in previous years," Gholston told CBS Sports by phone Thursday. "And I consider that being a late bloomer. Some people start off hot and some people need to grow into and blossom into who they are."
A late bloomer 👻— Will Gholston (@WILL_GHOLSTON2) October 4, 2021
Part of the reason for his late development has to do with the tumult among the defensive coaching staff in Tampa since the Bucs took him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Michigan State. He joined the Greg Schiano-led Bucs in his rookie year, then had the Lovie Smith-Leslie Frazier duo for two years, then Mike Smith took over the defense before Todd Bowles arrived for the 2019 season.
Gholston has taken lessons from each of those defensive minds and put them together the last year-plus to become a complete lineman.
"Well, I guess I'm a complete lineman," Gholston says, stopping himself. "I'm not sure. I'm trying to be a complete lineman at least."
But it's not just the coaching. Gholston has completely changed his body, too. Gholston is 6-foot-6 and listed at 281 pounds, but he probably hasn't been that slim in at least three years. He weighed as little as 255 pounds at one point earlier in his career, and today he sits around 318 pounds.
When Bowles got to Tampa Bay, Gholston got up to about 295 pounds. Last year during his 20-QB hit season he stayed close to 305 pounds, and he added even more this offseason. Though he's listed as a defensive end in Tampa Bay's 3-4 scheme, he's more of a defensive tackle/hybrid defensive end.
"I think he led the league last year in [QB] hits from interior guys," Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said this week. "He's gotten to the quarterback a bunch, and now he's finishing the deal. He's getting his sacks. Nobody wants to talk about pressures and hits, but he's done a heck of a job of that since we've been together. He fits this defense perfectly."
Gholston just wants to be dependable in his job. And when he uses the word "dependable," it brings to mind durability. He hasn't missed a game since 2017, and when I mention that to him I can hear him over the phone knocking loudly on some wood nearby.
So you have a 30-year-old defensive lineman who's transformed his body, playing better than ever and is durable?
"I just hate watching football more than I love playing football," he says, explaining his streak of 52 consecutive games played that's tied for fourth among all active defensive linemen in the league.
Gholston is playing out the final year of a five-year, $27.5 million deal he signed at the conclusion of his rookie contract. It's virtually unheard of for a player in today's NFL to finish out a five-year deal, but that's where Gholston is. If he wanted an extension after a career year last season, it wasn't going to happen with the Super Bowl-winning Bucs likely (over)spending their cash budget to retain all 22 starters.
An in-season extension also seems unlikely for the Bucs. And after he plays out this season, he'll have to decide whether he wants to stay in Tampa for less money than he'd get on the open market or go cash in on what would likely be his last big contract opportunity.
"Me and the team, we both know we have a vision, and the vision right now is to get to the Super Bowl again. Go back to back," Gholston says. "That's the goal. All the other stuff will play itself out."
For now, he'll keep his head down and keep grinding on what's becoming the best season of his career. He doesn't need the attention. If he's one of the least-known Bucs outside of the local community, that's fine by him.
"No, to be honest with you," Gholston starts, "I really just... and it might sound messed up, but I just like to punch the guy in front of me in the mouth.
"I really, I like playing and being able to be violent and consistent. That's what I like to do."
Best of luck to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
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Around the world
The NFL's International Combine will take place Tuesday, Oct. 12, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, and this event's third iteration will likely be its biggest yet.
About 50 players from more than a dozen countries will work out Tuesday for a group of evaluators who are former players or former NFL personnel staffers. From that group, about 15 will be selected to participate in the International Pathway Program training camp that takes place from January to March.
At the conclusion of that 10-week program, the group of players will participate in the International Pro Day that will be held at the University of Florida for any and all NFL clubs to evaluate.
The NFL has assigned international players to teams in certain divisions in previous years, giving those teams a roster exemption to carry the player on their 90-man roster as the 91st man. That's the way current Bills defensive end Efe Obada made his name with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. The Washington Football Team signed tight end Sammis Reyes last spring after the pro day but before he would have likely been assigned as the top pick to a team as an exempt player.
Of course, the International Player Pathway Program's biggest success story is Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata, who participated in the program in 2018 and was drafted in the seventh round by the Eagles. He signed a four-year, $64 million deal last month.
As American football is spreading globally, there's more talent being found in foreign countries than ever before. NFL teams would be wise to begin strengthening their international scouting programs like smart NBA teams did in the mid to late '90s.
Urban's not a homeboy
By now we've said just about everything there is to say about Urban Meyer ditching his team to be with his family and, later, party. It's another chapter in his so far bad and very short NFL book that may get to the last page before the end of the season.
But one other thing. During his week-long apology tour, Meyer couldn't stop bringing other people into his mess.
It started Monday when he brought in quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of nowhere.
"I've always been so defensive of them. I remember when Trevor told me he was going to go to Vegas for his bachelor party, and I was like, 'My gosh, man. Be careful and surround yourself' ... because I've seen this happen.'"
What a bizarre thing to say. Why admit you gave advice you yourself couldn't follow? But also... why bring Lawrence into this at all? On top of everything else, Lawrence is on the short list of NFL players you don't have to worry about at a bachelor party anywhere.
But it didn't stop there. When asked Wednesday if he got approval from Jaguars owner Shad Khan to skip the team flight back to Duval County, Meyer said he "discussed it" with GM Trent Baalke "way in advance."
So no, he didn't get approval from Khan. He just told the GM -- a guy holding on for dear life to his own job -- several weeks ago, and that sort of line makes it seem as though if there were any issue, Baalke should have been the one to tell Meyer not to do the thing that obviously Meyer shouldn't have done.
When owning your mistakes, don't bring other people into your mess. That's not accountability. If I were Lawrence or Baalke listening to those press conferences I'd wonder why the hell I had to be brought into this mess that I had no business creating.
DJ Chark's fractured ankle may very well be season-ending, and that's deflating for Jacksonville for more reasons than just what he would bring to the field this season.
I'm told the Jaguars had had internal discussions about possibly extending Chark, who's in the final year of his rookie contract, during this season. A second-round pick in 2018, Chark had a 1,000-yard season in 2019 and was looking to rebound from offseason finger surgery in this prove-it 2021 season.
The Jaguars were motivated as a franchise to keep Chark in part because he'd represent a homegrown success story. Jacksonville has struggled to retain the draft picks it does hit on, with Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue leading that group.
Now Chark will be faced with a rehab and recovery process that very well could take him out of what's surely a lost season in Jacksonville. He forged a strong bond with Lawrence this offseason, and that could be enough to keep him in Jacksonville if the money is right and the free agency market doesn't turn up the way he'd ultimately hope for.
Week 5 picks
A decent enough 10-6 Week 4 brought my season-long record up to 40-24. It's good, but I want to be better. I took the Rams on "Thursday Night Football."
Saints at Football Team
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)
No one seems to know what to make of the Saints from week to week or the Washington defense. I see Alvin Kamara being the ultimate X factor in this game.
The pick: Saints
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)
Baker Mayfield's shoulder has clearly limited him. He went from completed upwards of 80 percent of his passes to less than 55 percent in the last two weeks. That's too large a drop against too good a team in the Chargers. L.A. has momentum, and it'll prove a more difficult test than what the Vikings put forth last week.
The pick: Chargers
Bills at Chiefs
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NBC | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
I want to pick the Chiefs here. I really, really do. But Buffalo has two shutouts this season when that just doesn't happen in modern NFL times. And the Chiefs had a nice get-right game against the Eagles but they still are faltering against the top AFC teams. I think those struggles continue on Sunday night.
The pick: Bills
Jets over Falcons
Panthers over Eagles
Packers over Bengals
Patriots over Texans
Titans over Jaguars
Vikings over Lions
Steelers over Broncos
Buccaneers over Dolphins
Raiders over Bears
Cardinals over 49ers
Cowboys over Giants
Ravens over Colts