Source: OBP Expectations: DBs & STs
1) Spotlight: An easy pick for the spotlight in this unit is Darrelle Revis’s knee. Since I think that will take care of itself (perhaps not being fully healed until mid-way through camp, which will generate some conversation and plenty of national spotlight attention), I’m going to point the spotlight a different direction. I’m looking at the other side of the field. The side of the field that Revis, even if he had the Six Million Dollar Man’s legs, can’t hope to cover. The real flex point for this unit, and maybe the entire defensive unit, is whoever lines up opposite Darrelle Revis. When Revis returns, you can count on him to be tested. That’s part of the game. Once that short, one or two throw period is over, the real testing starts for the poor sucker who lines up opposite Revis.
2) Fresh meat: You mean, other than Revis? Dashon Goldson comes in from the Niners to man the FS position. Johnthan Banks (Miss St.) was drafted in the 2nd round.
3) Weak link: Weak link is exactly how I’d describe this unit last season. It’s long forum tradition to bounce around the chicken or egg question of whether pass defense starts up front with the DL or whether it resides somewhere five and up with the DBs. The answer is pass defense is the sum of those parts. Last season the pass rush was horrid. It would have been far less horrid, however, if any of our corners were capable of playing within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The buffer provided to opposing wideouts was nothing short of a guaranteed first down.
The key to this unit is not whether they can defend a ball in the air. What we couldn’t defend was the line of scrimmage. The short pass, the quick hitter, the check with me, was there almost as a certainty for opposing offenses. Revis will help take that away and that’s exactly why he’s here. The guy who lines up opposite him, must do the same. He has to be aggressive, on the line and reliable on 1.5 second island.
4) Wildcard: For the first time in many years, the Bucs come in with a big hole at the 5-spot. One of the things that will get Ronde Barber into the HOF was his ability to play nickel corner. As far back as I can remember, someone else was rotating to his regular corner spot and Ronde was rotating inside to work the middle. This season we have to pick from the group of Eric Wright, Leonard Johnson and Anthony Gaitor to identify someone who will do that in this defense. As discussed in the Front Seven piece, that is a critical role. It’s become a critical role, almost the equivalent of a starting role, in the NFL, but on this team, it is certainly a starting role. The nickel is on the field nearly as often as our starting SLB.
5) What to expect: I look for Johnthan Banks to be the opening day starter opposite Revis. He’s got the length and the ball skills to do that and the other competitors, Wright and Leonard, don’t have nearly the same talent level. Wright is a guy who gets beat down by Buc fans, but he’s a player that, if he can manage to keep his head out of his ass, can be a key roleplayer in this secondary. Early on last season, Wright was one of our best DBs. Granted, that’s not saying much, but that was before Aqib Talib went away. I look for him to beat out Johnson for the nickel role, but Johnson isn’t going to go quietly. He’s a very heady player, who will eventually occupy that spot and will win it this year if he out-muscles Wright in run defense. Gaitor is the odd man out in that bunch, but he’ll be on this roster and ready to go. I look for Rashaan Melvin (N.Illinois) to be that guy on this unit every season who comes in, dazzles with hard work and good play, and makes himself Turk-proof. He’s got the size and the wheels to do that. Knod to Snook, he’s also got the fluid hips.
All this blubber about the secondary, and we’ve hardly even said the word “Safety.” That’s by design. Like much of the rest of the roster, Safety is settled. Goldson is a guy with uncommon ability in coverage, and he’ll allow Mark Barron to do something he couldn’t do last season: focus on one side of the field. I still look for Ahmad Black to play a key role in this defense and get plenty of reps in 3-safety dime packages. Nick Saenz (Houston) will be the long-term project in this bunch.
1) Under the microscope: This unit has all of its skill positions filled. Connor Barth, Michael Koenen, and even Andrew Economos, are some of the best at their positions. What wasn’t good with this unit last season was what happened after the ball was kicked. An understated portion of the NFL game is the return game. The Bucs could neither return kicks well last season, nor cover kicks well. That cost Bob Ligashesky his job and the Bucs have brought in Dave Wannstedt to fix that.
2) Fresh meat: The suspicion among Buc fans is that Wannstedt is here to do more than just coach Special Teams. I suspect, however, that a large portion of the offseason review process for Greg Schiano focused on the Special Teams game. For a team that wins by narrow margins, which a young, rebuilding franchise is apt to do, Special Teams are very important. Wannstedt has a large task ahead of him for reasons we’ll discuss next.
3) Weak link: The weak link for this unit goes right back to one of the weak links discussed in the Front Office and Staff piece. This roster is missing an awful lot of players right in its midsection. We’ve been so busy identifying and replacing starters, that the other 31 roster spots have suffered.
4) What to expect: The return job is up for grabs. Michael Smith, Chris Owusu, Eric Page and Jeff Demps (if he gets into camp) figure to be the top competitors for that spot. Tiquan Underwood is likely to be shagging punts (because of reliability catching those punts more than anything else), as well, but those are your front-runners for guys who could make the team based on nothing more than their return ability. It is an absolute crap shoot at this point for return game top honors. I look for this roster to be heavy on wideouts and corners who can also play gunner and cover kickoffs. There are a lot of bodies to choose from, but those will be the most important spots to watch in the final preseason game. Whomever the Bucs line up in those spots will be the last two or three guys to make this team at final cuts.