The 2016 Buccaneers have started the preseason activities with what seems to be a seemingly smooth transition to a completely different team of the last decade. While new Head Coach Dirk Koetter, his staff, and players embark on a new era of Buccaneers football, the disposition of the team has done a 180 degree turn. While last season’s leadership was in flux, the addition of last year’s draft class was anything but, due in large part to GM Jason Licht and his scouting department. Markedly, not only did the organization finally land a talented and dedicated franchise quarterback with a winner’s attitude, but also picked up two promising offensive linemen and a prospective steal at LB in Kwon Alexander, all who were starters and contributors last season. However, no matter how the cliché saying goes, the Bucs definitely didn’t stop there.
In the continuous building process for a gifted and dominating defensive backfield, the Buccaneers might have found a future addition in rookie DB Ryan Smith from North Carolina Central University. Smith was drafted this year in the fourth round, as he was recognized for his exceptional coverage on opposing receivers as an elite cornerback who had quarterbacks looking off his side of the field. In addition, Smith’s dynamic special team’s aptitude made his value that much greater. Although Smith primarily occupied the cornerback positon at NCC, the safety position is where the team ultimately sees Smith fitting. He embodies the attributes with a downhill, hard hitting style that fits the mold. With his deceptive quickness and field awareness, he has the ability to play that single-high safety position. While last year’s free safety starter Bradley McDougald performed admirably after the penalty-prone stint of Dashon Goldson, there is a significant reason Smith was coveted for the secondary unit of the future. Earning numerous accolades in the lesser known Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MEAC), Smith was not overlooked by the Buccaneers’ and other NFL organization’s scouting departments.
Knowing DC Mike Smith and Secondary Coach Jon Hoke are excited to implement him into a primary defensive role, Smith has the chance to solidify a position with the special teams and work with Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor. Due to the fact that Smith only has one year of high school football and a collegiate career where he was scarcely tested, his electrifying return ability on punts and kickoffs could be his forte for a much needed upgrade at this position. Last season the team utilized running back Bobby Rainey who made some impressive plays, with the exception of holding on to the ball. Ultimately the Bucs’ WR Adam Humphries replaced Rainey for ‘good hands’ purposes. The Bucs’ front office and scouting department hope they captured lightning in a bottle with Smith. If he can employ his burst and shifty abilities at this level, he can potentially add additional yardage on punt and kickoff returns. That improvement alone would make a significant difference for starting drives, flipping the field, and an occasional TD return. It seems not since Karl “The Truth” Williams (96’-03’) have Buc’s fans seen a consistently dangerous punt return unit.
As Smith might experience the safety position during training camp and the preseason, the coaching staff will most likely opt to let him develop for at least one to two seasons before playing that starting role. Another area of concern is the strong safety position. Currently, Chris Conte looks to be continuing his tour of duty at the strong safety spot. But age and his proneness to injury makes him a liability for consistency. If the Bucs can find a nice fit to develop in the SS position alongside Smith, Buc’s fans may once again have appreciation for an exciting and prolific secondary.
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