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

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

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.

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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4 years ago

Like I said a million times, I didn’t care if Lovie stayed or was fired because I learned after the Dominik, Morris, Schiano experiment that the GM matters more than the coach. That said, I thing about Lovie that should be clear now is that he was justified in switching around the CB’s last season and settled on guys other than Banks and Verner. They had a clean slate by a new defensive regime (which they also had when Lovie arrived) and were still beaten out by Adjei-Barimah and others. Maybe it wasn’t the secondary coaching staff last year. Maybe… Read more »

Reply to  pinkstob
4 years ago

Always enjoy your player analysis my friend. I had high hopes that the game of musical chairs in our secondary was over with Smith and Son’s departure. I fully anticipated the release of Verner due to his play not being commensurate with his play, but he had a fairly good game in Week 1. I don’t know all of the salary cap implications but I suspect his place on the roster is more about who is behind him. The rotating of CB’s reminds me of the old saying, If you are playing two QB’s you really have no QB” .… Read more »

Reply to  pinkstob
4 years ago

GMs matter a lot, but I complete reject your notion that they matter more than coaches. GMs don’t create schemes, they don’t coach the players, they don’t call the plays, they don’t make in-game decisions. Great coaches can make other teams’ cast-offs look like stars … we Bucs fans know that better than anybody, given that we’ve had major stars on most of the Super Bowl teams of the last decade while we were rooting around in the cellar. Just last weekend, another Buc cast-off, Aquib Talib, make Jameis Winston look like a fool in front of the home town… Read more »

Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

I couldn’t disagree more. Coaches don’t throw or catch passes nor do they make blocks or tackles, players do. GM’s select those players. If fact, coaches have less impact than they ever have after the new CBA. They are more restricted than they have ever been in terms of contact with the players in the offseason and the number of practices where they can coach players. Also, on many teams (including the Bucs) the GM chooses the coach, making the GM all the more important. It’s this type of outdated philosophy that the HC is more important that anything that… Read more »

4 years ago

The problem with the CB’s this year seems to be more connected to communication that skill set. As a whole, except for the busted coverages which have resulted in gash plays, the coverage has been better than last year. I just hope to see all of the defense start fresh and healthy after their bye week. With five games under the belt and with healthy players, maybe we can get a sense of how well this defense can be. As it is, I don’t think anyone will have to worry about Mike Smith having a line of suitors waiting o… Read more »

4 years ago

Except for one busted play Vernor was having pass breakup after pass breakup. He was playing at least as well as Grimes. I’m a little concerned that we’re back in the “one mistake and you’re benched” system that made CBs so timid under Lovie. That being said, coverage on the outside by the corners has been good. Giant holes have been opening up in the middle where guys like Kwon Alexander,Lavonte David, Chris Conte, Keith Tandy, and Bradley MacDougald are supposed to have everything under control. With the lack of pressure on opposing qbs, everyone is going to get open… Read more »

Reply to  russmillerwy
4 years ago

I think it’s fair to say that if this was a “one mistake and you’re benched” system that Grimes would have been benched in favor of Verner as Grimes has made a ton of mistakes. Especially given Verner’s salary.

Reply to  pinkstob
4 years ago

@russmillerwy and @pinkstob … I think you’re both on to something there…it may not be “one mistake (on the field) and you’re done”…as @pinkstob accurately reflects, Grimes has made many more than one mistake (and I’m not sure Banks has made one yet, since he hasn’t seen the field :-) )….but let’s think about ASJ (even before the DUI)…there is some sort of “doghouse” going on at 1Buc that falling into means you’re going to see the pine a lot. Maybe Grimes is just a better Video Room guy than Verner and Banks and that means that since they’re all… Read more »

4 years ago

This kind of roster and role experimentation is why a new defensive regime (coaches, scheme, and players) takes awhile to gel. Add in the uncertainty in roster when major injuries take out key players, and that adds to tie difficulty in bringing a new defense together on the same page.

It’s possible this defense won’t gel at all this season … but, it often takes at least a half season if not more.