The Buccaneers players are on vacation until they have to report back to Tampa on July 23 to begin what many are hoping and expecting to be a rebound season from the 4-12 disaster of 2013. Excitement abounds with Lovie Smith now in place as the team’s head coach, and an influx of new players that the organization hopes fills holes in the roster have fans excited about the possibilities in 2014. While the mood surrounding the franchise is as positive as it has been in a number of years, there are still some areas of concern on the roster.
This week, PewterReport.com counts down the five biggest questions heading into training camp. While there are certainly more than five, these are the ones that present the biggest questions about and will be closely scrutinized once camp opens.
Camp Question No. 5: WHO WILL BE THE STARTING NICKEL BACK?Players In The Mix: D. J. Moore, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Deveron Carr, Quinton Pointer
The hiring of Smith as head coach ushers back in the Tampa 2 defense made popular – and extremely effective – by former head coach Tony Dungy back in the glory days for Tampa Bay. Smith was the Buccaneers linebackers coach under Dungy and saw the success of the scheme first hand before taking it to St. Louis where we was the Rams defensive coordinator and then to Chicago after being hired as the Bears head coach.
Part of a successful Tampa 2 scheme is the play of the nickel back that handles the inside when the defense goes into a nickel situation (five defensive backs – three cornerbacks and two safeties). Long-time fan favorite Ronde Barber spent part of his career in that position and it was from that role Barber intercepted Donovan McNabb’s late fourth quarter pass in the 2002 NFC Championship game that propelled the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl in San Diego. Who will play this key role for Tampa Bay in 2014?
With Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner is established as the starter at cornerback on one side, Tampa Bay brought in former USF and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins to compete with Johnthan Banks for the right to be the every down cornerback in the base 4-3 alignment. However, the loser of the starting battle between Banks and Jenkins will not find themselves as the nickel role, but rather on the bench. That’s because the nickel – or slot – cornerback is a different position in Tampa Bay under Smith and is taught by Larry Marmie, a dedicated nickel backs coach, rather than cornerbacks coach Gil Byrd.
The Buccaneers signed free agent D.J. Moore, a player who Smith previously coached in Chicago. Moore, a five-year veteran, has 10 interceptions in his career, including two that were returned for touchdowns. In a recent press conference, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said that Moore, due to his experience in the system, might have the upper hand at this point.
Leonard Johnson was the team’s starting nickel cornerback last year, but not in the Cover 2 scheme. He struggled with the transition from moving from outside to the slot position, but did have a key pick-six in the Bucs’ win at Detroit last year. Tampa Bay began working cornerback Danny Gorrer in the nickel role during the team’s OTAs and mini-camps this offseason, and he proved versatile enough to play both inside and outside.
A player to keep an eye on also is Quinton Pointer, who has been impressive during the offseason workouts, nabbing a number of interceptions this spring in practice. He is also in the mix along with holdover Deveron Carr, who was with the team last year as a reserve.
PewterReport.com’s Early Bet As Starter: MooreMoore’s experience and success in the system gives him the edge to win the role in training camp. As a Chicago Bear, the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder had 22 pass breakups, 10 interceptions, scored two touchdowns had a sack and a forced fumble. Look for Banks to win the starting cornerback role opposite Verner, and for Jenkins to be the primary corner backup with Moore on the field in nickel situations. Rashaan Melvin is also in the conversation to compete with Jenkins to be the third cornerback behind Verner and Banks.
TRAINING CAMP QUESTIONS SERIES SCHEDULETraining Camp Question No. 5 – Nickel Cornerbacks (Monday)Training Camp Question No. 4 – Left Defensive End (Tuesday)Training Camp Question No. 3 – Guards (Wednesday) Training Camp Question No. 2 – Running Backs (Thursday)Training Camp Question No. 1 – Third Wide Receiver (Friday)
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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