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 TAKEN REPS FIELDING KICKS AND PUNTS By Alterraun Verner as told to Scott Reynolds
Josh Robinson, one of our new cornerbacks, had a real big day [in our last practice on Tuesday] with the two interceptions. He almost had three. Both of those picks came in two-minute situations, which is clutch. That’s big when you can get an interception in the two-minute drill.
Bucs CB Josh Robinson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Josh has really been making plays throughout camp, whether it was the interceptions he had or punching the ball out, he has a non-stop motor. Even if he’s slightly beat, he finds a way to get the ball out and he’s been doing that throughout camp. He’s been looking real good, and he’s a competitor. You can never have enough competitors out there on the field. Josh has been a welcomed addition to the team.
The Bucs have me returning a few kicks in training camp. Even though I may not be on the official depth chart right now, I think it’s kind of legitimate. I’ve been taking reps fielding both kicks and punts. Our new special teams coordinator, Nick Kaczor, was my coach in Tennessee. He has me on both punt return and kickoff return because he knows I can do it. I’ve done it before on a limited basis, but I have an opportunity to do both of them.
When I was in Tennessee it was emergency situation and I actually got to do it in a game. Our punt returner got hurt against Jacksonville and I stepped in and did it, so he’s aware that I can do it and he knows I’ve done it in games so. I guess you can say I’m more of a security blanket because he’s familiar with me.
All the other guys here – I don’t think Nick has worked with them at all. So he knows if all else fails, he knows he can depend on me as a guy that could do it. Because of that, I have to sharpen my skills. I can’t just not do it in practice and expect to just go out there, so I wouldn’t say am necessarily the emergency guy, but it could be a situation where I may be called on to do it this year. They could put two people back there – who knows? They might want me back there for all different types of reasons, so I wouldn’t say I’m practicing it for no reason. They might have a plan for me, but I do look forward to somebody else doing it full-time, though!
I tried to return some kicks and punts at UCLA. I had my moments of doing it. I did more returns in high school than in college. We kind of had somebody they brought in to do it full-time at UCLA. But injuries happen and that’s why you can never have enough people back there. You never know what could happen with injuries and things like that during a game. It’s something I do enjoy doing on a limited basis. I definitely like having the ball in my hands, so I’m not opposed to doing it.
I can’t wait for our first preseason game in Philly – just for the fact that I feel like you get to a point out here where you start getting too familiar with each other. You start going off a player’s tendencies. I wouldn’t say it’s guessing what play is coming, but it’s just like reading things as the play develops because you kind of know what’s coming.
We’ve seen these plays and Jameis Winston’s throws so many times, so it’s always refreshing to get some new blood and go up against a new team. The Eagles haven’t seen what we’re doing, so a lot of things will probably work for us that aren’t probably working right now because our offense has seen it so many times.
I can’t wait to go against Philly and the rest of the teams down the road. The preseason is exciting at the start, but then you can’t wait for it to be over and to get to the regular season. For the most part, being an older guy, you know the protocol. You know the routine in the first game. It’s likely a series or two and that’s it. You’re done. So you’re not going to see everything you want to see in the first preseason game. You’ll just get a glimpse.
You’ll see it all when we put it together when it’s time for the regular season to start. At the end of the day the preseason isn’t a big thing unless you are fighting for a spot trying to get on the 53-man roster. As far as stats and stuff like that, it doesn’t matter because the games don’t count. Staying fresh is what is most important. You don’t want injuries or anything like that to happen to you. You want to get that work in against another team, take it to them and get ready for the regular season. It all starts for us on Thursday in Philly.
Follow Alterraun Verner on Twitter at @Alvern_1 and on Instagram at ATV1UCLA. 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.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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