Distant Early Warning: Cornerbacks
February 03, 2009 at 12:17pm by Scott • 1 Comment »
Tampa Bay cornerbacks had a few highly-visible terrible plays that created the impression that they suck and need to be replaced or killed. The first game of the season kinds of stands out for me — Ronde Barber falling down on a long touchdown to Devery Henderson and Aqib Talib mistiming his jump to allow David Patten to score made enough of an impression on me that I didn’t have to look any of those names up. And then in December, the secondary seemed to be boycotting tackling and run support. But if you look at the whole body of work, it wasn’t soooo bad. The Bucs ranked #4 in the NFL in pass defense, and we all know that there was no pressure on the quarterbacks, so the secondary must have been doing something right. And with Raheem Morris now calling the shots, you can be sure that the players in the defensive backfield will get the benefit of the doubt, at least in the beginning. Here’s what we have so far:
Ronde Barber: Barber is signed through 2010 and he is just about at the level of untouchability as Derrick Brooks. Whether it was justified or not, Barber is also going to the Pro Bowl this year, so all this shit about “Cut Ronde!” that you see on message boards just isn’t happening. He can still pull a great play out of his ass now and then, but his consistency and ultimately his reliability have really taken a hit this year.
Phillip Buchanon: If there was one guy that quarterbacks liked picking on this year, it was Buchanon. Offensive coordinators have found a tendency in him that they like exploiting, and they’re not even clever about hiding it. Buchanon’s contract is up, and the Bucs should definitely let him test free agency to get an idea of what he is worth.
Aqib Talib: He’ll probably replace Buchanon as the starter on that side. There’s no reason to think that he’ll do anything but improve next year.
Elbert Mack: Undrafted free agent that made some nice special teams tackles and had one really boneheaded personal foul against Matt Ryan that got him suspended.
The previous coaching regime was high on Mack as an eventual contributor, and I think they were right. Morris likes him, too, and while he may be up against some competition next year, chances are good that he’ll make the roster.
Torrie Cox: Be honest, you forgot Cox was even on the team, didn’t you? Cox has torn various ACLs in three of the last six years (fun fact: Cox’s ACLs are made solely of Bazooka Joe bubble gum) and I have to imagine that he’s gone in 2009. He has two years left on his contract, but the guy is never healthy. He showed some promise (and gold teeth!) but why you continue to pay this guy?
There are also a couple camp guys on the team that I won’t bother assigning names to. The Bucs started off 2008 with four true cornerbacks on the roster and Eugene Wilson, who the Bucs were trying to make back into a corner, but he’s really a safety. Anyway, what we’re looking for is one or possibly two quality corners: one to push Talib for a starting spot and one to push Mack for the nickel spot. There are some free agents available.
Nnamdi Asomugha is the elite corner on the market this season. I guess he’s pretty good; no quarterback ever throws his way, so I’ll have to take their fear as an endorsement of his coverage abilities. Oakland may franchise him again or they may work something out with him before the end of the month. I can’t believe they’d be so stupid as to let their best player go. But even if he were to leave Oakland, he’d be too pricey for an area where the Bucs think they have sufficient depth.
I also like Dunta Robinson. He’s coming off an ACL injury that put him on the PUP list for a while, but he finished the season on a good note and when he’s on the top of his game is one of the best around. He has openly stated that he wants to stay in Houston, so unless the Texans outwardly reject him, they should be able to come to an agreement before he gets loose.
Domonique Foxworth: Came to Atlanta from Denver and quickly rose to the starting left corner spot. He can play safety in a pinch, too. He’s a guy with a future and Atlanta would be dumb to let him walk away in free agency, especially since they traded away a draft pick to get him. But if he gets loose, the Bucs should seriously think about him. Not only is he a good fit for the needs at that position, but it could deal a nice blow to a division rival.
Andre’ Goodman: Will be 31 when the season starts, but had a nice year for Miami with a career-high five picks. I wouldn’t mind him if he was the last guy left after the free agency tornado rips through, but he’s not ideal.
Jabari Greer: Solid corner who was replaced in Buffalo by first-round pick Leodis McKelvin. He’s not a superstar, but he’s young and reliable. And a Volunteer.
Corey Ivy: In case you don’t remember, Ivy actually started his career in Tampa as a nickelback. He’s not ever going to be more than that, but he did get better during his time in Baltimore. He seems to have found a home there and they may want to may a play at getting him back. Good stopgap, but not a solution to anything.
Pacman Jones: If you even want to consider Jones for the Buccaneers, go stick your dick in a beehive.
Ricky Manning, Jr.: Broke several bones in his foot last year and was put on IR. Manning was a hot commodity at one point, but he hasn’t made an impact since the Bears went to the Super Bowl. If the Bucs want that, they should just stick with Cox.
R.W. McQuarters: He left his best football in Chicago eight years ago. He’s not much more than a punt returner and a situational corner now. Pass.
The top cornerback in the draft seems to be Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio state). Most projections have him going in the top ten, and with good reason. Great size and speed, excellent tackler, top competition in college. He’s pretty much the whole package. And the Bucs won’t get him without moving up, so let’s move on.
A guy that should be around at #19 if the Bucs want to take a cornerback is Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest). Smith is everything that Jenkins is minus five inches. I know five inches doesn’t sound like a lot (insert dick joke here (heh… “insert dick”)) but if Smith is going up against, say, Plaxico Burress on a fade route, sorry. It ain’t happening. He has all the skills and technique and speed you want. Because he’s short, he’s got a chip on his shoulder and can be overly-aggressive. Sometimes it pans out (his game against Clemson was particularly nasty) and sometimes it doesn’t. But if Steve Smith can make a career as a wide receiver at the same height, can’t Alphonso Smith do the same at cornerback? He’s the best corner that the Bucs could spend their first rounder on. He may even be around in the second where the Bucs pick, and if that’s the case, he should be a slam dunk.
Want a sleeper? How about Sherrod Martin (Troy State)? Troy is starting to get a reputation as a team that develops some really underrated talent (Osi Umenyiora, DeMarcus Ware and even our own Elbert Mack to name a few) and I think Martin is next in line. He’s a great athlete with all the intangibles you’d want (good leadership, very tough). He’s also very fast and offers some versatility if you want to play him at safety, which is where he played a lot of the time at Troy. The biggest problem with him is his shoulders, both of which he severely tore in 2006. He sat out that season and seems to have come back solidly, but it’s a concern. He’s also a little light (6-0, 191) which gives him speed, but also makes him susceptible to being shoved off the line in press coverage. But he’s a great prospect and should be around in the fourth or fifth rounds if the Bucs want to take a shot at him. A good combine showing may push him up a little.
The season will probably shake out with one change at cornerback. Buchanon will be gone and it would be nice to have a veteran like Foxworth step in there. If he can’t, put Talib in to start, make Mack your nickel and draft a guy like Martin to be your dime. Then you have to go into the 2010 draft thinking to draft a corner high because Ronde will be on his last year by then.