But another player might enter the mix at free safety -- cornerback Dwight Smith. Smith burst on the scene last year on defense in just his second season by recording eight interceptions, including three in the postseason, and is interested in challenging for the vacant safety position.
"I just want to get on the field," Smith told Pewter Report. "It wouldn't be a hard transition to make. I figured I would end my career at safety anyways. I'm going to get to an age where I can't keep the weight off. I'm naturally a 215-220-pound guy. I'd move to safety if they want me to."
Because the Bucs play so much nickel defense, the 5-foot-10, 201-pound Smith does get a fair amount of playing time as the nickel corner, yet not as many on-field snaps as a starting free safety would.
But after Pro Bowl-caliber seasons by both Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber, Smith is still the third corner on the depth chart and likely wouldn't see any more playing time barring an injury to either starter.
If the Bucs were to experiment with moving Smith at free safety the time to do it is during the mini-camps and organized team activity days in the spring and summer to see if he could make a successful transition. With Smith competing with Phillips and Howell at free safety, younger players such as Corey Ivy and Tim Wansley could get additional reps at cornerback which could be invaluable to their development.
Tampa Bay looked to within their ranks last spring when they lost middle linebacker Jamie Duncan to the St. Louis Rams during the 2002 free agent season. They experimented with moving strongside linebacker Shelton Quarles to the middle, a decision that paid off as Quarles turned in a stellar, Pro Bowl season and solidified the middle of the defense for the first time since Hardy Nickerson left Tampa Bay in 1999.
Because the Bucs coaching staff has been scattered around the nation going to various pro day workouts, Smith hasn't discussed any possible move to free safety with them yet, but plans to.
"I've talked to the guys about it," Smith said. "I've talked to Brooks and Sapp about it, but I haven't really seen the coaches or really talked to them about it yet."