Flynn's Focus: Moving On Up

April 8 – When Tampa Bay released cornerback Donnie Abraham last month, the Bucs' veteran ballhawk left some big shoes to fill. But this is nothing new to Tampa Bay's defense. Once a player leaves, someone else is expected to step in and fill the void. Abraham left an opening at the nickel cornerback position, and second-year CB Dwight Smith discusses the challenges that will come in his endeavor to pick up where Abraham left off and more in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

Tampa Bay cornerback Dwight Smith is no longer a rookie, but he just finished participating in new head coach Jon Gruden's mini-camp. While defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's defensive scheme remains the same, the attitude at One Buccaneer Place has drastically changed.

"It was great," said Smith. "I love the spirit around here. Everybody seemed to be upbeat. People seem like they want to be here. It doesn't seem like work anymore. It seems like it's back to the way it was when we were kids and young. That's when we play our best ball—when we know it's fun."

The Buccaneers selected Smith in the third round of last year's NFL Draft out of the University of Akron. While he saw significant playing time on special teams, he was the odd man out of a talented cornerback rotation that included Pro Bowler Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Donnie Abraham. But with one year under his belt and the defensive system still intact, Smith is looking forward to playing instead of thinking.

"There's no more thinking involved," said Smith. "It's all about confidence. When you know what you're doing, you're more confident out there and you're move fluid. I can see other new guys now like Corey Chamblin being how I was last year, and I can see the difference. All I'm trying to do is work to get better."

Gruden's enthusiasm has been contagious. Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin, who had a quiet type of coaching approach last year, was just as vocal as the other assistant coaches at the recent mini-camp. Smith says both players and coaches are simply a reflection of their head coach.

"Your coach is the epitome of the team," said Smith. "If your coach is very active, then you're going to be very active. He (Gruden) brought a lot of energy and he brought new things, and when everything's new to you, you want to do it. It's fun to do and everyone seems like they've grabbed onto him, and we're ready to follow him to wherever he wants to lead us."

Former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy had a calm demeanor, and although he was the most successful coach in franchise history, his message apparently started to fall on some deaf ears toward the end of his tenure with the Buccaneers. While Smith was dispirited by Dungy's departure, he is convinced the change was a good one.

"I don't know if anyone can fill Coach Dungy's shoes," said Smith. "But it's a great change. They have two different types of coaching. One is laid back and one is in your face. Anytime you need change, you should change for different. That's the type of coach we probably needed because we didn't need another coach who would come in here laid back because we would've had the same thing going on. So, I think it was a great move if Dungy had to leave."

Smith likes Jon Gruden and his fiery demeanor. But he also likes the fact that he's going to see some significant action in Tampa Bay's secondary this season.

Tampa Bay demoted Abraham from starting cornerback to nickel back just a few weeks into the regular season last year, but he still managed to record 45 tackles and six interceptions since the defense played so much nickel.

The Bucs released Abraham last month due to his high salary. While it's not etched in stone, Smith played nickel cornerback throughout this past weekend's mini-camp and seems like the most logical choice to replace Abraham at the position.

While Smith plans on taking advantage of the opportunity, he realizes it won't be easy to take the place of a player like Abraham, who ranks first in Tampa Bay history with 31 career interceptions.

"I'm ready for it," said Smith. "I'm trying to work this offseason to put the trust in my coaches to trust in me and believe that I can do it. I just want to get out there and play football. There are a lot of high expectations around here, because after Donnie leaves, that's six or seven picks a year. Somebody has to step in and help fill the void left by him, and that comes down on me. All I can do is stay around as much as possible, learn as much as possible and still go to Ronde (Barber) and Brian (Kelly) since they're still here, and just become the best football player Dwight Smith can be."

While Smith will likely occupy Tampa Bay's nickel cornerback position, he still expects to see action on special teams, where he led the team in tackles last season with 22.

"That's still my job," said Smith. "It's not like we have a lot of bodies around here so I can just be the nickel and not do that. My team expects me to make plays on special teams still, as well as at the nickel position. I have to step up and be in good enough shape where I can do the nickel and be on special teams."

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