Buccaneers cornerback battle already taking shape
By James Yarcho
One of the most interesting camp battles Buccaneers fans will be keeping an eye on is at cornerback – which is already beginning to take shape during OTAs.
It’s been a question as often as really any other this off-season – who will emerge as the nickel corner for the Buccaneers? Well, not only is that battle taking place already but so is the third outside corner – or eventual starter should Brent Grimes or Vernon Hargreaves go down with injury.
Ryan Smith and Javien Elliott are popular names among Bucs fans, but free agent acquisition Robert McClain is also cementing himself into the conversation during the early battle at OTAs. Dirk Koetter was complimentary of Smith who has shined the past few practices after a slow start;
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"“We’re looking for Ryan to – Ryan’s got a major role we need him to fill for us. Ryan’s had his ups and downs. We were excited about him, he went through a two or three-day period where he thought he was in a little bit of a funk, but that’s two [good] days in a row. He had a beautiful interception in the red zone yesterday and that [one today] would have been a pick-six. No one’s going to catch him. I was giving him a hard time right there, asking him if he could outrun the quarterback and the center and he just laughed. We knew he could. That was a good play by him.”"
Meanwhile, the rest of the corners are fighting for that nickel spot, which was locked up by Jude Adjei-Barimah until his four game suspension cam down. Now Jude, Elliott, and McClain are all fighting for that spot which – in today’s NFL – is essentially a starting position. Koetter talked about how the slot corner and the third corner aren’t necessarily interchangeable terms;
"“Well, right now the way it’s looking those might be two different positions. Third outside corner and slot corner might end up being two different positions, with a couple guys playing both. Jude [Adjei-Barimah] and Bobby Mac – Robert McClain – can play both spots. Ryan’s primarily playing outside, not inside. And then Javien Elliott, you can throw him into the mix there, too; he can play both spots. Who’s going to be the third corner, who’s going to be the nickel corner? It should be a good competition.”"
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For a position that was viewed last season as a weakness and for one that some still view that way, there seems to be a lot of depth at corner and Buccaneers fans shouldn’t stress too much about the players behind Grimes or VHIII. It seems Mike Smith is getting all his ducks in a row and making sure the position isn’t exposed like they were at the beginning of 2016.