After three years of matching up cornerback Aqib Talib on Steve Smith, PewterReport.com has learned that the Bucs will instead use cornerback Eric Wright to cover the Panthers' top wide receiver. Talib will cover 6-foot-2 wide receiver Brandon LaFell on Sunday.
In a surprising development, PewterReport.com has learned that the Buccaneers will elect to use cornerback Eric Wright – and not Aqib Talib – to cover Panthers receiver Steve Smith on Sunday in the 2012 regular season opener for both teams at Raymond James Stadium. When healthy over the past three seasons, Talib has drawn the assignment of man-to-man coverage against Smith, but that will change in the first game of the Greg Schiano era in Tampa Bay.
Wright was signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in free agency in March and the price tag raised eyebrows around the NFL. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik was criticized for overpaying for Wright, but it appears as if the Bucs feel he is the team’s top cornerback on their roster by matching him up against the Panthers’ top wideout in Smith, who had 79 catches for 1,394 and seven touchdowns last year and has 699 catches for 10,278 yards and 59 touchdowns.
Playing for Detroit last year, Wright held Smith to just five receptions for 41 yards and one touchdown a 49-35 victory over Carolina.
When asked about defending Carolina quarterback Cam Newton earlier in the week, Talib told reporters that he would draw the assignment of covering Smith on Sunday rather than covering Bradnon LaFell. The Bucs want to use 6-foot-1, 205-pound cornerback on the 6-foot, 210-pound Panthers receiver.
“I play man [coverage],” Talib said. “Everybody has to do his job. My job isn’t to contain Cam Newton. My job is to watch Steve Smith and keep my eyes on him. That’s my job. It’s hard enough to watch Steve Smith. I can’t worry about what Cam is doing.”
Apparently Talib was trying to use a bit of clever deception in the media to disguise how Tampa Bay was going to defend Smith. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Wright was non-committal on his game day responsibility against Carolina when asked if he was indeed covering the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Smith.
“First and foremost we have been working on a plan for a while now, and whatever Coach [Schiano] calls we feel comfortable playing it,” Wright told PewterReport.com late Friday afternoon. “Obviously, the Panthers have an explosive offense with a number of different weapons. We are just going to go out there and do our best to stop that.
“We played the Panthers last year in Detroit and it was a hard fought game. Like I said they have a number of different weapons so it is a tough task slowing down that offense.”
Last year, Smith was held to two catches for 32 yards by Talib in the first match-up on December 4, but was confined to one catch for nine yards in the second contest. LaFell was the real threat in the passing game as he combined for six catches for 167 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown.
In two losses to Tampa Bay in 2010, Smith had a combined six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Smith had three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown against Talib in the first game, but was contained by Ronde Barber and E.J. Biggers and held to three catches for 47 yards in the second contest when Talib was on injured reserve.
In 2009, Smith totaled four catches for 82 yards, and was held to just one catch for four yards in the first game against Talib, and allowed three receptions for 78 yards in the rematch later in the season.
“Opening game of the season is always extremely exciting,” Wright said. “We have been putting a lot of time in. Coming off camp and the long offseason trying to play at a high level for your first game so it is always exciting. This team has done a great job of coming in and putting the work in to get ready for this first game.”–Mark Cook contributed to this report
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