Welcome to the final edition of our Training Camp Previews, where we go position by position to give you a look at how we feel each group of Bucs will look heading into the regular season. We continue the series with a look at the Buccaneers’ defensive backs.
The plan is to take a look at each player and position, and see what they’ve done in the past, and what sort of role we can expect from them in 2013. We’ll use our traditional “Good, Bad, Likely” format to give all possible outcomes for each position, and today we take a look at the corners and safeties.
The team has made its way to Tampa for training camp, and the players have passed conditioning tests and started to get into the groove for the NFL season. And because that drew the media to One Buc Place, it meant head coach Greg Schiano got to talk about some of the key position battles.
One of the most obvious battles is at cornerback, where the man tasked with playing across from Revis Island has yet to be decided, especially now that Eric Wright is no longer on the team. Schiano spoke on the topic today, and said that rookie Johnthan Banks, second year player Leonard Johnson, and veteran journeyman Danny Gorrer are going to be the ones who have a chance to make an impact at the position. So we have four players right off the bat who we know have a leg up on the competition in the battle for playing time.
Johnson was a bit inconsistent, but impressive during his rookie year in 2012. He made a few highlight plays, but also fell victim to missed tackles and blown assignments. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives, and I believe he is due for a good year in 2013. In fact, I predicted he might win the starting job long before Eric Wright was sent packing. Gorrer was the best on the team at preventing positive plays from the offense, as he led the cornerbacks in passer rating against on targeted throws, although I admit the sample size is fairly small. (Thanks to Pro Football Focus for the stats.) And Banks is a talented and smart young football player who is going to have the size and ability to play from day one against NFL talent, but might struggle with the speed of the game at first.
So who else is left? Undrafted rookies Deveron Carr and Rashaan Melvin both have a chance to make the roster, as they have both shown promise despite failing to be selected in April’s draft. Carr has the size and speed to be an NFL corner, but never “put it all together” at Arizona State. Melvin comes from weaker competition at Northern Illinois, but has been the topic of some buzz this offseason.
Michael Adams has joined the team to compete in camp, and has a track record in the NFL as a career backup in Arizona. The Dallas, Texas native has three career picks in six NFL seasons. He’ll face fellow veteran corners Anthony Gaitor and Myron Lewis in a battle to make the team. And finally, there’s unheralded undrafted rookie Branden Smith, who doesn’t seem to have much of a shot at making the team.
The Good: Either Leonard Johnson or Johnthan Banks define the starting role as their own, and the other winds up filling the fifth corner role and seeing the field often in a pass-happy NFC South. Gorrer and Carr prove to be worthy backups, with fellow youngster Melvin adding further depth. Adams proves he’s worthy to make the roster, and gives a veteran presence on the bench.
The Bad: If Banks doesn’t catch on quickly, or if Johnson fails to stand out, the second corner spot could be a bit of a weakness for the Buccaneers. Luckily they’ll have safety help this season, but there is an unlikely scenario that sees the second corner job rotate and fluctuate through the year.
The Likely: I have faith in either Banks or Johnson to claim the starting role as their own, and benefit from being across from the best corner in the league. I think one of them will impress this summer and enter week one as the clear-cut starting corner.
This position is a bit more defined as we enter camp, and will be the backbone for a much improved defense. Newcomer Dashon Goldson will patrol the defensive backfield as free safety, while Mark Barron will step forward and play a more comfortable role as strong safety. Ahmad Black returns as arguably one of the better backup safeties in the NFL (not that this means a lot, but it’s nice to have), and the backup behind Barron will come down to Sean Baker, Cody Grimm, and Keith Tandy. Nick Saenz is also in the mix, although I suspect he has a long road to making the Bucs’ opening day squad.
The Good: Goldson helps Barron grow into a monster in his more defined role, and they both clobber opposing receivers, drawing the occasional flag, but ensuring no opposing team takes lightly the threat of going over the middle against the Buccaneers. Black chips in as needed, and Tandy makes himself worth the draft pick and earns the fourth spot.
The Bad: The only real “bad” scenario would be if Barron still “didn’t get it” in the NFL and continued to be inconsistent and unable to cover a zone in pass coverage. I don’t think this will happen, and it will matter less with Revis in town, but it’s possible.
The Likely: Read, the good. The Buccaneers could have the best safeties in the NFL, and if they don’t, they’ll be darn close.