Flynn's Focus

July 10 – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers apparently will bring nine cornerbacks to Orlando when the team reports to training camp on July 28. But how many corners will Tampa Bay keep on its 53-man roster? Where might new CB Terrell Buckley fit into the rotation? Does second-year CB Dwight Smith stand a chance of unseating Brian Kelly as the team's starting left corner? Get the answers to these questions and more in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers report to training camp in less than three weeks (July 28) and the team will entertain several interesting position battles, one of which will be at the cornerback position.

One source told Pewter Report that Tampa Bay will likely only keep five cornerbacks on its 53-man roster, which only leaves three roster spots up for grabs considering starters Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly are practically locks to make the team.

Barber (5-10, 184) made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season after hauling in a career-high 10 interceptions. Not only is Barber a lock to make the team, but he's also a lock to remain the team's starting right cornerback.

The Bucs won't deny the fact that they lost a solid corner in Donnie Abraham, who signed with the New York Jets after Tampa Bay released him in a salary cap maneuver earlier in the offseason. After all, Abraham ranks first in Tampa Bay history with 31 career interceptions, including the six he hauled in last season as the team's primary nickel corner. But Tampa Bay felt Abraham's play dropped off last season, which opened up opportunities for some of the team's other cornerbacks.

Tampa Bay re-signed Kelly to a six-year deal during the offseason. He missed most of the Bucs' mini-camp practices after he suffered a broken hand during the first mini-camp. Despite Kelly's injury, the Bucs are high on their 1998 second-round draft pick out of Southern California. The one knock on Kelly is the lack of interceptions he has produced during his four years with the Pewter Pirates, which is just three. But Kelly, who had served as the Bucs' nickel corner for most of his career, took a huge step in the right direction last season when he unseated Abraham as the team's starting left corner and went on to start 11 games for Tampa Bay. Kelly (5-11, 193) played the run better in addition to demonstrating better tackling ability than Abraham, which is what ultimately led to Kelly's promotion. If he can come up with more interceptions, a Pro Bowl appearance won't be out of the realm of possibility for Kelly.

Second-year CB Dwight Smith had an outstanding offseason, especially during Tampa Bay's mini-camps in the nickel slot as well as in place of Kelly. All positions are open to competition under Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, don't look for Smith (5-10, 201) to unseat Kelly this year. While Smith, who hauled in 10 interceptions during his senior season at Akron, has tremendous ballhawking skills and instincts, he lacks experience in the pros. With the amount of nickel defense Tampa Bay has played in the past, Smith certainly will get more playing experience under his belt this season. Smith also led team in special teams tackles last year, which almost assures him of making the 53-man roster this year.

Tampa Bay's newest cornerback, Terrell Buckley, will compete with Smith for playing time at the nickel position. Smith received plenty of reps during Tampa Bay's mini-camps and is a faster and bigger corner than Buckley, but Buckley could conceivably earn the nickel job during training camp. Buckley (5-9, 176), who is entering his 11th season in the NFL, has more experience than Smith and he's a proven ballhawk in the NFL, recording 41 career interceptions throughout his career. Buckley's signing gives Tampa Bay experience behind or in front Smith, depending on who comes out of training camp as the Bucs' nickel corner.

That leaves cornerbacks Corey Chamblin, Corey Ivy, Anthony Midget, Tim Wansley and Markese Fitzgerald fighting for the fifth and final cornerback spot on Tampa Bay's 53-man roster.

Judging by the mini-camp performances, Chamblin has to be considered the frontrunner for the fifth and final corner spot. Chamblin (5-10, 189) put on quite a show at all three mini-camps and definitely caught the eye of team officials. But while he impressed at mini-camp, he'll have to play just as well if not better during training camp. Tampa Bay would also like to see the second-year corner make his mark on special teams.

Ivy will enter training camp after an impressive NFL Europe campaign as Frankfurt's starting right cornerback. He was second on the team in tackles with 35 and defended 10 passes and hauled in three interceptions for the Galaxy. Ivy spent most of last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad and saw action in one game against the Detroit Lions. The fact that Ivy spent last season with the Bucs bodes well for the second-year cornerback, but he'll have to keep his legs fresh in order to compete during training camp.

Midget, who is entering his third season in the NFL, spent the entire 2000 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad. Like Chamblin and Ivy, Midget (5-11, 193) has to show he can fill in at corner when called upon as well as make a contribution to special teams this season.

The two rookies in the group, Wansley and Fitzgerald, are practically competing against each other. Both have to make a significant contribution on special teams in order to secure roster spots, but Wansley (5-8, 180), who returned a few punts for Georgia and was named the Bulldogs' 2001 special teams captain, could have the edge here. This battle is entirely too close to call. With stiff competition at the cornerback position, both players will have to show they're capable of playing at cornerback this year, which may not happen. If they don't make Tampa Bay's 53-man roster, both Wansley and Fitzgerald (5-10, 184) could be perfect candidates for the Bucs' five-man practice squad.

It's a bit early for predictions, but if Tampa Bay does in fact keep just five cornerbacks on its 2002 53-man roster, here are the five I see securing roster spots.

CB Ronde Barber
CB Brian Kelly
CB Terrell Buckley
CB Dwight Smith
CB Corey Chamblin

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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/

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