Now through the upcoming NFL Draft, PewterReport.com will take a weekly look at the roster and highlight a position, sharing our thoughts on what the Buccaneers currently have and ranking each player in order. This week we take a look at the cornerback position.CORNERBACKS
No one unit has ever played so poorly statistically in the history of the franchise. Even the woeful 76-77 and 85-91 Bucs never came closer to setting NFL records for futility than the 2012 secondary (4,758 yards through the air, 30 TD passes allowed).
When the draft concluded last April things on paper at least, looked pretty good. The Buccaneers had added Eric Wright in free agency, drafted Mark Barron at safety, hired former LSU secondary coach Ron Cooper and still had an unsuspended Aqib Talib on the field when the offseason workouts began. The wheels felll off quickly however, as Wright began missing time with an undisclosed illness, losing valuable on the field instructions in the new defensive scheme.
Minor injuries seemed to crop up daily and within the first few days of training camp nickel cornerback E.J. Biggers was in a walking boot after suffering a foot injury, and Anthony Gaitor missed several days with a hamstring injury that eventually landed him on the PUP (physically unable to perform list).
Once the season began things actually got worse as the secondary struggled to keep receivers in front of them, highlighted by surrendering 511 yards passing in Week 2 against the New York Giants. Later in the season Talib was suspended four games for testing positive for a banned substance (Adderall), subsequently was traded and then fellow starter Wright was found guilty of the same infraction, also resulting in a four-game suspension.
In the meantime the Buccaneers surrendered late leads to the Redskins, Saints, Falcons and Eagles, costing them a chance at a playoff berth. Rumblings of issues with Cooper soon followed and the entire secondary had pretty much imploded before having arguably their best game of the year in the season finale against Atlanta.
After the season ended, Cooper was fired and the plan to overhaul the secondary was thought to begin with free agency. General manager Mark Dominik obviously had other plans, as not only have the Buccaneers failed to sign a cornerback thus far, they lost E.J. Biggers to the Redskins last month. While Biggers was never a fan favorite he was one of the most consistent performers in the defensive backfield for Tampa Bay in 2012 and brought, at the least, starting experience to an otherwise young secondary.
The Buccaneers and Jets are still in talks about a trade for Darrelle Revis but at this point it appears the possible trade could drag on right up to the NFL Draft later this month. Revis would immediately make the Buccaneers secondary – and defense for that matter – much better, but there are no guarantees that a deal will get done, which will force Tampa Bay into plugging holes with rookies, never a highly successful proposition.
For now this is who the Buccaneers have. Things will most likely change as Wright could be jettisoned if the Revis deal ends up being completed and odds are Tampa Bay will select more than one cornerback in the upcoming draft.CURRENT ROSTERED CORNERBACKS RANKINGS1. ERIC WRIGHT
The former Browns and Lions cornerback was signed last April to a five-year, $37.75 million contract, but as noted earlier, struggled to stay healthy. Wright was diagnosed with an undisclosed medical condition that left him fatigued and unable to participate in many of the team’s OTAs last spring. According to sources Wright is on medication that has corrected the problem, or at least has made it manageable. But Wright’s troubles weren’t just limited to that specific issue, as he suffered from chronic back injuries and an Achilles issue that hampered him for the majority of the season. Wright is Plan “B” if Revis isn’t signed according to sources, but at a much reduced salary than his current contract calls for. In 2012 Wright played in 10 games, recording 37 tackles, sevens passes defensed and one interception.2. LEONARD JOHNSON
The Johnson story was a great feel good story for the Tampa Bay community in 2012. The Clearwater native grew up a Bucs fan in his youth and getting signed by the Buccaneers was a dream came true for the former Iowa State star. Not only was Johnson undrafted, he had to participate in a weekend tryout following the draft to even get signed making the fairy-tale story even more impressive. Johnson quickly prove himself as a solid cornerback, but struggled at times when playing man coverage. The general consensus on Johnson is he is better suited as a nickel corner, however he has already proven many wrong who though considered him a long shot to even earn a roster spot last year. In 2012 Johnson played in all 16 games, starting six, with 41 tackles, nine pass breakups, a forced fumble, three interceptions with one touchdown.3. ANTHONY GAITOR
Gaitor was a 2011 seventh-round selection and
has seen his playing time limited, partly due to injury. Gaitor suffered
a hamstring injury in training camp that ended up costing him several
games last season. The former Florida International standout played in
four games last season, starting two and recorded seven tackles and five
passes defensed. While not boasting eye-popping statistics, Gaitor is
thought to be one of the better cover corners on the roster, although he
is somewhat limited by his size which is generously listed as
5-foot-10, and 182-pounds in the Buccaneers media guide. Gaitor may be a
better fit as a slot cornerback coming in nickel and dime coverage
situations as the small in stature corner will have a hard time matching
up with the NFC South’s roster of tall receivers.4. DANNY GORRER
Gorrer was claimed by the Buccaneers on October 31 last season and ended up playing in Tampa Bay’s final six games, starting one. Most Bucs fans best know Gorrer by the dropped Nick Foles interception that would have secured the Bucs a win against the Eagles on their final drive. Instead the Eagles scored on the final play of the game, one of most devastating losses the Bucs suffered in 2012. Gorrer played well at times, especially considering he was thrown into the fire almost immediately. His one interception came against Sam Bradford and the Rams at Raymond James Stadium undercutting Danny Amendola after initially getting beat on a double move. 5. MYRON LEWIS
Perhaps there is no cornerback in Buccaneers history that has been more frustrating or puzzling that Lewis. Watch Lewis on the practice field, the tall lanky cornerback, with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, glides easily showing excellent technique. But once the intensity heats up, Lewis melts down. Lewis appears to be content as a backup, coasting along in the NFL not willing to be put in the spotlight. Lewis also lacks toughness, sitting games out with injuries that most would consider minor. How Lewis has lasted this long is a mystery to most fans and certainly to PewterReport.com. This season will be most likely the last chance Lewis has to prove he belongs in the league. The Buccaneers are desperate for cornerback help and most would agree Lewis has the physical size (6-2, 203) to play in the NFL, but perhaps not the mental toughness it takes to be successful. In three seasons Lewis has just 19 tackles and three passes defensed, not nearly the return the Bucs expected when they made him a third-round selection in 2010.6. KEITH TANDY
Tandy is listed as a cornerback on the official Bucs roster but practiced at safety for the most part in 2012. As a rookie Tandy saw action in nine games, but never making much of an impact. Both Tandy and linebacker Najee Goode were drafted from West Virginia and played in an unorthodox style defense, and not coincidentally they both struggled to pick up the Buccaneers defense to a degree. Word is the Buccaneers are high on both players, and this offseason will be critical in their development.7. JAMES ROGERS
Rogers was a late addition to the training camp roster and was cut during the final preseason cut downs. A former receiver and cornerback at Michigan, the Buccaneers saw enough potential to re-sign him to a futures contract after the 2012 season. The former Wolverine most likely face an uphill battle to make the roster in 2013, but will be given every opportunity to prove he can become an NFL player due to the need for secondary help in Tampa Bay.UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTSBRANDON MCDONALD
McDonald was signed off the street during the 2012 season and was immediately thrust into action, playing primarily as a nickel cornerback. McDonald struggled like all the Bucs’ cornerbacks and was cut midseason but after Lewis was placed on injured reserve late in 2012, McDonald rejoined Tampa Bay. Depending on the Revis deal, and what happens in the upcoming draft, McDonald could be back in a Buccaneer uniform in time for training camp.RONDE BARBER
The decision Barber makes about his return could have a huge impact on the makeup of the secondary in 2013. Barber made the transition to safety last season and was the most consistent player in the defensive backfield for the 2012 Buccaneers, leading the team with four interceptions. But with the free agent signing of safety Dashon Goldson Barber most likely will be relegated to a backup role, unless he is willing to move back to cornerback. The veteran most likely won’t line up as a starting corner on the edge but his experience and ability would fit in perfectly as the team’s nickel corner. Just having Barber in the locker room for another season is a benefit to the entire organization.
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