It has been amusing to see how desperate some folks think the Bucs are for cornerback help. Yes, the pass defense has not been strong for the team, but a lack of pass rush and a lack of scheme likely played a significant role in those struggles.
A pass rush is exponentially more important than the guys who cover in the defensive backfield. This fact is evident when looking at the teams who were playing in the AFC and NFC Championship Games last Sunday. Other than Josh Norman, most fans couldn't name another member of the Panthers secondary. Other than Patrick Peterson, most fans couldn't name another healthy (Tyrann Mathieu injured) member of the Cardinals secondary. Malcolm Butler saved the Patriots in last year's Super Bowl, but does anyone know another name in that secondary?
A top notch defensive line can change everything for a defense. This is evident by our friends at Pewter Report, who got a chance to speak with Bucs' GM Jason Licht at this week's Senior Bowl.
A new coaching staff will mean new life for some Buccaneers, according to Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht. In an exclusive interview with Licht at the Senior Bowl, Licht confirmed that cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner would be back in Tampa Bay in 2016. Both cornerbacks had fallen out of favor – and the starting lineup – this past year when head coach Lovie Smith took full control of the defense.
With both Banks and Verner returning for the 2016 season, along with a potential resigning of Sterling Moore, perhaps the Bucs aren't as desperate for that cornerback help as many believed.
“I got very excited about talking to Mike Smith after we hired him and having a nice conversation with him,” Licht told Pewter Report. “He believes that you can’t be really system-specific with your players, and you have to scheme around your players’ skills. You hear that a lot but it doesn’t happen a lot of times. But with him, that’s one of his core beliefs, so that’s exciting for a general manager and a scouting department to hear in terms of who we select and who we sign. If he’s a good football player then he’s a good football player.”
This obvious shot at Lovie Smith should be encouraging to Bucs fans. Jason Licht was not too fond of bringing in less talented players to the Bucs' organization for the sheer fact that they fit Lovie's system. Licht has a reputation of being a very strong talent evaluator throughout the NFL. Now Licht will have the opportunity to use that talent evaluation to bring in talented defenders no matter what scheme they fit into.
I firmly believe the Bucs are much more comfortable with Johnthan Banks, who was a 2nd round pick in 2013, and Alterraun Verner, who was a pro bowler in 2013. These guys didn't forget how to play football; they were just square pegs being fit into round holes by Lovie Smith. New Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith likely has much bigger plans for these two corners. Oh, and Verner has his old secondary coach, Brett Maxie, coaching him again with the Bucs. Maxie was Verner's coach when he last went to the Pro Bowl.
Instead of cornerback, look for the Bucs to attack a very deep defensive line market in both free ageny and the draft this off-season. After evaluating both lists of players, this might be the deepest group of combined defensive linemen names in free agency and the draft in recent memory. Over the next several weeks, we will bring you up to speed on all of these names and how they might fit with the Buccaneers.
This is an encouraging and exciting time for the Bucs. Now that Jason Licht has free reign to do with the defense what he has done with the offense, we could see a much quicker turnaround on defense than most people think.