Bucs Training Camp Preview — Secondary

BucsBlitz.com's countdown to training camp continues with a preview of the secondary. Each day BucsBlitz.com will break down a different position leading up to reporting day in Orlando on July 26.


CORNERBACKS: Ronde Barber (starting right corner), Brian Kelly (starting left corner), Phillip Buchanon, Torrie Cox, Sammy Davis, Marcus Hamilton, Carlos Hendricks, Alan Zemaitis.

Barber continued to build up his Hall of Fame candidacy last season by reaching the Pro Bowl for the fourth time. He also earned an All-Pro nod as one of the few defensive highlights from last season's meltdown.

Kelly is now an injury risk after two season-ending injuries in the past four seasons. When healthy, he's the perfect complement to Barber and the Cover 2 defense. He has superior zone coverage skills.

Buchanon has earned praise this offseason from Jon Gruden for picking up the nuances of the defense. He'll work as a nickel corner and as Kelly's primary backup.

Cox may be fighting for his job. In his fifth season, the Bucs appear to be looking elsewhere for their kick return duties. Cox looked woefully overmatched last year in some instances. And he'll miss the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy (a ruling that is being appealed). NFL teams aren't typically kind to average players who will miss time for suspensions such as those.

Sammy Davis is an enigmatic veteran entering his fifth year. He started as a rookie in San Diego in 2003, but his playing time and statistics have diminished since then. He's looking to catch on as a backup and special teams contributor.

Hamilton might be a steal where he was drafted (seventh round). He played the Cover 2 in college and knows the defense well. Plus, being a Virginia product, Barber will likely take a special interest in Hamilton's development. He has quick feet, flexible hips and good overall agility. He just needs to get more aggressive.

Hendricks is likely just cannon fodder for training camp. He'll have to make the team as a special teams player.

Zemaitis' rookie season was curious — he never played, and he suddenly had a season-ending injury late in the year. One has to wonder if there are questions as to how Zemaitis is picking up his role in the defense. He may be cut by the end of the preseason if he doesn't show progress.

Sam Olajabutu signed as an undrafted free agent. At one point he was projected as a fifth-round pick. He's small (just 5-9), but scouts consider him very athletic and a possible special teams contributor.

Winborn is a wily veteran in his second year in Tampa Bay. He made six tackles from scrimmage in 2006, but 14 special teams tackles. He may become a victim of the defense's youth movement.

Postins' prediction: Barber, Kelly, Buchanon, Davis, Hamilton.

SAFETIES: Jermaine Phillips (starting strong safety), Will Allen (starting free safety), Sabby Piscitelli, Tanard Jackson, Kalvin Pearson, Donte Nicholson.

Phillips and Allen's starting jobs aren't assured. They absorbed plenty of blame for last year's passing breakdowns, but only some of it was justified. Scouts criticized Phillips' tendency to break late on balls and Allen's tackling and aggressiveness. But instead of signing a veteran to push them, the Bucs are relying on rookies.

Piscitelli and Jackson are both considered quick, agile defensive backs that can hit and play with the aggressiveness necessary in the Cover 2. Jackson is a converted cornerback, but the Bucs worked him at safety at the Senior Bowl and were impressed. But they're rookies, and inevitable growing pains are ahead.

Pearson will make this team as, at the last, a top special teams performer. He may end up being the captain of the unit. But his coverage skills at safety improved remarkably last year, and the Bucs actually gave him a new deal in the offseason. Nothing long-term, but the Bucs like Pearson and believe he has potential.

One final addition is position coach Raheem Morris, who left the team last season for the defensive coordinator job at Kansas State. Morris — who has actually helped select most of these players — will be charged with getting better play out of the entire unit. He has already identified Zemaitis as a project. He is a coach who is more in the Mike Tomlin mold, who is now the head coach in Pittsburgh.

Postins' prediction: Phillips, Allen, Piscitelli, Jackson, Pearson.

See the next story in the series:

Tight ends

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Included among his more than two dozen writing and editing awards are national awards from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors, and state awards from the Florida Press Club and the Florida Sports Writers Association, for his coverage of the Buccaneers since 2004.


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