It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Bucs remain steadfast in their belief that they are set on the outside at cornerback.
Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III have started every week as Tampa Bay’s top two corners, primarily lining up opposite an opponent’s receivers on the edges. Hargreaves began the season bouncing inside and out but has been allowed to focus on defending outside receivers the last two games.
Bucs CBs Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Where the Bucs haven’t seemed to make up their minds is in nickel packages. After three weeks of Alterraun Verner handling many or most of those snaps, Jude Adjei-Barimah took over against Denver. The defensive play snaps went from 36 for Verner and zero for Adjei-Barimah two weeks ago against Los Angeles to 41 for Adjei-Barimah and zero for Verner against Denver.
“We have been rolling those guys at the nickel a little bit and we also want to see if Vernon Hargreaves is better staying outside at corner all the time than having to go back and forth at nickel and corner,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said about the situation Thursday. “We’re four games in, I’d say that’s still a work in progress, but Jude did a good job when he was in there at nickel. He only played four plays [Week 2 against Arizona] so it was almost entirely Verner and Hargreaves inside. Then Hargreaves got to stay outside last week when Jude comes in at the nickel and both those guys did a good job.”
Getting familiar with playing nickel is a process for Adjei-Barimah, as well. The undrafted free agent who played his way into a starting role last season primarily as a corner on the outside is now tasked with fitting into a new defensive scheme and position.
“It’s kind of been an even split,” Adjei-Barimah said last week of where he’s been practicing at. “I’ve been working both inside and outside to keep me fresh and keep me ready at both places in case I’m needed at any point this season so I can be sharp and be able to step in and get the job done.”
As for the fluctuation in defensive reps – from 13 to four to zero to 41 – the second-year corner said he’s just staying focused on taking care of his responsibilities when he’s on the field.
“I play a role right now and that’s what I do,” he said. “I play my role and I’m completely bought into what my role is right now. Whenever my number’s called I’ll be ready and that’s just how it is right now.”
Those who have fallen completely out of favor are Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson. Neither corner has been on the field for a single defensive snap and both only play on special teams. Robinson’s had exactly 22 special teams snaps all four games whereas Banks has received 38 total reps on the season.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Whatever the personnel mix, however, the overall results aren’t where the Bucs need them to be if they want to enjoy greater success on game days. The 258.5 yards passing per game being surrendered puts them in the middle of the league (15th overall), but giving up big plays and failing to create them has contributed plenty to a disappointing 1-3 start. Tampa Bay’s given up 14 passing plays of 20 yards or more and six of 40 or more, and the defense is allowing opposing quarterbacks to convert first downs at a rate of 40.8 percent (third highest in the NFL).
As for taking the ball away, that’s been nonexistent. Tampa Bay’s lone interception came courtesy of linebacker Kwon Alexander against the Rams in Week 3. Bucs corners managed to pick off two passes in 2015 (Verner and Sterling Moore) but opportunities have yet to be seized upon this year.
After attempting to corral the likes of Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, Tavon Austin, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, Tampa Bay is preparing for big-bodied Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen.