Intriguing position battles can be found all over the training camp practice fields of One Buc Place this summer.
New faces and up-and-comers are fighting for roster spots and playing time within virtually every unit. Nowhere may that competition be fiercer than at cornerback and no one may have more to prove that fourth-year pro Johnthan Banks.
After beginning last season as a starter, Banks suffered a Week 3 knee injury in Houston that left him inactive for the next two games leading up to the Bucs’ bye week. Then something happened between Banks and the former regime of head coach Lovie Smith and defensive staffers. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound corner returned to the starting lineup for two more games until his playing time fell off a cliff.
From Week 9-14, Banks spent the majority of games spectating from the sidelines. In five of those six games he appeared more on special teams than he did on defense, including three where he didn’t play a single snap at corner.
Banks’ fall from being a promising cornerstone of the secondary with seven interceptions, 15 passes defensed and 105 total tackles over his first two seasons was one of year’s biggest head-scratchers.
Now Banks enters 2016 tasked with showing a reconfigured Bucs coaching staff that he’s an impact performer that needs to be on the field. Adding to the importance of accomplishing that goal is that Banks is on a contract year. He came to Tampa Bay as a second-round draft pick and Jim Thorpe Award-winning, All-America corner out of Mississippi State in 2013 and his four-year rookie deal expires at the end of this season.
Playing for a payday is hard to ignore, but Banks told PewterReport.com this weekend that his true motivations have evolved over the years.
“I think about my kids,” Banks said when asked about being on a contract year and what pushes him during training camp. “They mean the world to me. I want to see them grow up and have things I didn’t have. I try to get out here and push and keep going.
“But I don’t worry about it. I’m going to be taken care of regardless. If I get it I get it, if I don’t I’m still blessed. So I just take it one day at a time. I don’t think about it. I just let whatever happens happen.”
Taking that mindset to heart would be especially helpful this season. In addition to just bouncing back from last year’s disappointments, Banks has plenty of challengers looking to take away his playing time.
Tampa native Vernon Hargreaves III is in camp as the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this spring. Tenth-year veteran Brent Grimes signed a 2-year, $13.5-million deal in the offseason. Fifth-year vet Josh Robinson was also brought in town from Minnesota and the guy that took Banks’ starting job for a big chunk of last year, Jude Adjei-Barimah, is back in pewter and red.
If Banks is concerned about the newcomers and overall level of competition he’s not letting on. “It’s a business but you still have to go out there and compete and have fun. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. That’s it.”
Banks is no stranger to exuding confidence in Tampa Bay’s secondary and defense, proclaiming that the Bucs could be the best overall unit in the league last October. A similar excitement is back in 2016.
“I’m fired up,” Banks said. “I think we’re going to be really good. We’ve got a good offense, on defense we’ve got a lot of good pieces, so it’s going to be fun. I think we have a good group [at cornerback] – real good group. Solid. A lot of competition in the room.”
For reality to match up with perception, every defensive player will have to adapt to, execute and thrive in a new system led by defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Adjusting to new coaching staffs takes time and it’s something Banks has plenty of experience dealing with during his brief NFL career.
“It’s crazy, man. I’m going on my fourth year and this is the third defense I’ve played on. Sometimes it gets frustrating but with God on my side, my wife pushing me, I’ll make it. I’ll be all right. That’s how you’ve got to be. Things happen. We’re grown, we’ve got to learn to adjust.”