When the Buccaneers signed Alterraun Verner in 2014 they thought they were getting a Pro Bowl cornerback, and that’s exactly what the former UCLA standout was in Tennessee. Verner made the Pro Bowl in his fourth year with the Titans after breaking up an astonishing 22 passes in 2013 along with a career-high five interceptions and a pick-six during his lone Pro Bowl season. A willing tackler in run support, evidenced by a career-high 101 tackles as a rookie in 2010, Verner was deemed to be a good fit for Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme.
But in his first two years in Tampa Bay, Verner has underwhelmed and disappointed with just 13 pass breakups and three interceptions combined. Now playing in a much more familiar scheme similar to the one that he thrived in with the Titans, Verner is out to prove to himself, the Bucs organization and the fans that he can get back to playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Verner was one of the stars in the offseason, starting at right cornerback opposite Brent Grimes and keeping Johnthan Banks, another defensive back looking for a bounce-back year, on the second team during the OTAs and mini-camp. Can Verner continue his stellar play once the pads come on in training camp? Can he live up to his contract, which pays him $6.75 million this season – up from the $4.25 million he made a year ago?
The pressure is on in training camp as Verner not only wants to prove his worth, but prove that he can once again be one of the better playmaking cornerbacks in the NFL. There is no doubt that this is the biggest training camp in Verner’s NFL career. With multiple entries over the next four weeks, Verner will be sharing his training camp story exclusively with PewterReport.com readers in his Bucs Camp Diary. Follow along as Verner attempts to hold on to his starting right cornerback spot and sheds light on Tampa Bay’s revamped secondary, which includes the arrival of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, the Bucs’ first-round pick.
I’VE GOT A LOT TO PROVE
By Alterraun Verner as told to Scott Reynolds
My excitement level for training camp this year is through the roof. This is another opportunity for me to get a clean slate and hopefully do the things I was planning on doing when I first got to Tampa. It’s very exciting. I’m going into my seventh season in the NFL and I’m striving to get better. There are some big things in store for this team year, and myself, too. I’ve got a lot to prove after the last two years and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.
Dirk Koetter has taken on more of a leadership role this year, obviously because of the job description and title, but I’m looking for more competitiveness from our team. Iron sharpens iron. I think Coach Koetter is going to do what he can take care of his players from a body standpoint. He’s going to push us to the limit as well. I’m looking forward to him challenging us in many different ways to get us ready for the season.
I love these early morning practices for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is beating the heat. That’s going to be crucial for our longevity this season and not wearing our bodies out for the long haul. I also like the fact that we don’t have to sit around and wait for practice, either. You get up and go right at it, and then correct your mistakes in the afternoon. It’s so much better than having meetings in the morning, and then having the whole anticipation of practice building up. I love waking up, having a quick meeting, and then getting right to practice. Then you have the rest of the day to rest your body and make the corrections we need to make.
Mike Smith, our new defensive coordinator, is a very attention-to-detail coach. He’s put in his system and now he expects us to know it when camp starts and to get the job done. That’s a high demand, and it’s actually a compliment to us that he expects us to already get the defense down pat. Our challenge is to show him that we’ve got it down when camp starts, and I’m confident we will.
Jon Hoke is my new position coach, and he is a no-nonsense guy, but he’s also a very reasonable coach. He listens to the players and responds well to us. He’ll get after you if you’re not doing your techniques right, but you can tell he wants to coach us the right way and he wants us to get better. He wants us to be fundamentally sound. He’s very knowledgeable as a coach.
We’re learning a new defense and I have a competition in my head that says, ‘Can I get it better than the next guy?’ That fuels me. The challenge to me isn’t learning this defense because a lot of the stuff I’ve done before at UCLA and Tennessee. The challenge is just getting the terminology down.
It’s not like Chris Conte and Major Wright, as both of their careers have been entirely in a Lovie Smith defense. This is a complete culture shock for them. It’s not like they’re not getting it – they are. But I’ve been familiar with this type of scheme and had success with it in college and went to the Pro Bowl in this scheme at Tennessee. It’s very exciting for me.
It’s also exciting to see how it looks already and we’ve just put it in. To see people fly around and make the plays they’re making, it gets you very excited, especially because the offense we see in practice is a pretty good offense, which is led by Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Doug Martin.
I think I had a very good offseason in the OTAs and mini-camp, and it brought back a lot of confidence. I’ve talked to my father about it a lot. Going through the last two years and doing something that was very uncommon to me – not backpedalling – and doing something that most cornerbacks don’t do. Going back to what I used to play, there was a doubt that lingered slightly. Will I be able to adjust back to backpedalling?
My play in the OTAs and the mini-camp gave me that confidence that it’s still there, and I can play this style of coverage. I did have a strong camp, and I think that was enough for them to realize that the guy that was at a Pro Bowl level is still there. It’s up to me to unveil that and actually do it now. I still have to do it out on the field, but from a confidence standpoint it definitely helped me out to get out there and do more things that I was accustomed to doing.
We only had two interceptions from the cornerback position last year, which was unacceptable. I only had one, but you’ll see us making more this season. It’s already happening.
Vernon Hargreaves had the most picks in the offseason and it wasn’t even close. Vernon had somewhere between four to six. Chris Conte had a lot. I couldn’t tell you who was second, but Vernon clearly had the most interceptions.
I was in the top four. The way we track it, we only track the ones in team periods and 7-on-7s. If you get them in 1-on-1’s they don’t record those, and I had about two or three in those periods, but they didn’t get calculated. I had two or three picks in team periods, and Vernon had four or five – maybe six. I remember he had two in one day, which is very exciting to see.
On the other side of the ball there were real standouts at wide receiver. I think Adam Humphries is our “Mr. Reliable” in the slot. He always finds a way to get open, especially on third downs. He has very reliable hands. I think he’s a very big safety valve for Jameis and they’ve built a really big relationship.
There weren’t many times the ball went to Humphries and the ball wasn’t caught by Humphries. He’s not going to be physically imposing. He’s not going to run by too many people. But he’s the definition of a consummate pro and a football player. He just gets open and catches the ball.
Donteea Dye has performed well and really improved this offseason, but Kenny Bell really took off running. You see the fire he has from missing last year. He enjoys being back in a competitive setting after sitting out. The guy is blazing fast and he made a lot of big plays in the offseason. Those three guys have really stood out in my mind.
Bucs fans, thank you for your confidence and support in our team. Things haven’t been going the way you guys have wanted it to go so far, but I guarantee you that things are vastly changing with the new coaches. I’ve seen it and good things are happening.
I’m looking forward to doing these Bucs Camp Diaries on PewterReport.com for you and I hope that you get a new perspective on some things out of it. I invite you to follow me on Twitter at @Alvern_1 and on Instagram at ATV1UCLA. You’ve been awesome, and trust me – the wait for a winning season is coming to an end in Tampa Bay. We’re going to make big things happen this year. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride.
The next edition of Alterraun Verner’s Bucs Training Camp Diary will be this weekend after the first day of training camp in full pads. Be sure to visit PewterReport.com multiple times throughout the day during training camp for new stories and updates from practice live from One Buccaneer Place, and follow us on Twitter at @PewterReport.