FAB 3. Dean To The Rescue?
He’s the biggest cornerback on the roster, and also the fastest.
He’s not quite a superhero, but can rookie Jamel Dean save the day for Tampa Bay?
Can he come to help rescue a Bucs secondary that has been beaten up the last three games and ranked dead last in the league in passing yards?
Dean, one of the team’s third-round picks this year, will get his first crack at playing defense on Sunday in London against Carolina. At least that’s the plan. He won’t start, but may play some snaps here and there or get a series or two on defense either at the expense of Vernon Hargreaves III or Carlton Davis.
Dean’s progress thus far in Tampa Bay has been hindered by injuries. In training camp it was a hip injury that caused him to miss two games and limited him to five tackles, two pass breakups and an interception in the preseason. Dean injured his ankle in Week 2 action at Carolina on special teams and missed the next three games.
“I’m ready to go out there and play again,” Dean said. “I feel like I’m a scrub not being able to go out there and help the team. The injury was frustrating, but it’s been something I have had to deal with my whole life. It all depends on how I bounce back.”
What’s remarkable is that at 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, Dean ran a 4.3 at the NFL Scouting Combine – on two surgically repaired knees. Davis, who played with Dean at Auburn, has seen his speed – and determination – for quite some time.
“He’s probably the fastest player – him and Ryan Smith – on our defense,” Davis said. “He’s huge. He’s a bull. He’s so strong below his waist. It’s ridiculous. He’s so fast, but that doesn’t surprise me because I’ve known him for years. I’ve known Dean since high school. I wouldn’t underestimate his ability. I’ve seen him battle back from injury after injury. In high school he tore his ACL and I saw him battle back. He tore his ACL at Auburn and I saw him battle back. He’s a strong-willed kid.”
The Bucs could use Dean’s speed and strong-willed presence in a secondary that has come under fire at the start of the 2019 campaign. Dean’s teammates rave about his performance on the scout team in practice.
“He’s a long guy and he’s a guy that if he has somebody in press coverage and he gets his hands on him, it’s going to be tough to get the ball to the receiver,” said Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin. “Those are the kind of guys you need to check at the line and see if he’s winning before you throw it. He did a great job in the preseason and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. You’d like to see that continue.”
It’s one thing to have 4.3 speed in shorts running a 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. It’s another thing to actually play that fast when the pads come on.
“That’s the thing because when you throw a deep ball you can tell which guys have that other gear to get to the ball, and which guys don’t,” Griffin said. “He’s definitely the kind of guy that you know as a quarterback you have to throw a perfect ball against because he’ll get to it and it will be incomplete. Guys with that kind of speed stay in the back of your mind as a quarterback.”
One of the players that Dean has often faced in practice dating back to the rookie mini-camp is wide receiver Scotty Miller, who runs a sub 4.4. Miller has been impressed with Dean’s speed from their first day together.
“I’m never going to bet against myself, but Jamel can go – he can fly,” Miller said. “We had to run a lot this summer because we came in together as rookies. I would say I beat him … and he would say he beat me if you asked him. I’m never going to say anyone is faster than me, but he’s fast. It’s unbelievable, really. I’m 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, and I should be able to run fast. He’s so big, strong and long and he can run that fast. He has all the tools in the toolbox to be a really successful cornerback in this league.”
Covering a fellow rookie like Miller is one thing, but how about a two-time Pro Bowler like Mike Evans?
“Dean is going to be a good player when he gets on the field,” Evans said. “He’s a big, physical corner, and he’s fast. He loves to complete and he kind of reminds me of James Bradberry. They are the exact body type, but Dean is probably a little bit bigger than him – and he’s faster, too. He’s similar – we need to get him on the field.”
With Bruce Arians calling the secondary “soft” after last Sunday’s loss at New Orleans, Dean will get a look from defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross sooner rather than later. With Tampa Bay’s secondary allowing an average of 323.6 passing yards per game it certainly can’t hurt to put the fast and physical Dean out there to see what he can do.
“He’s made real improvement since he got here, but the real test will be how he produces in games,” Davis said. “I’ve seen him grow in practice. I believe in him and I believe he’s capable of making plays, but he’s got to go out and do it. We’ll see when the time comes.”