Previewing the Buccaneer secondary in 2010
There are no fewer than 16 players technically still listed as members of the Tampa Bay defensive backfield. From former All-Pros like Ronde Barber to rookies like Myron Lewis. From big hitters like Tanard Jackson to newcomers like Sean Jones. And Sabby Piscitelli.
So who of the 16 will likely be on the roster come opening day? And who will be destined to remain in the ranks of those people who tell their kids in years to come, "well I was in an NFL training camp one year".
Starting at corner and this surely has to be the last year for Ronde Barber. No.20 first took the field for the franchise in 1997 and was lit up on a September afternoon by Rob Moore of the Cardinals. He's come a long way since then, Pro Bowls ans Super Bowls of course, but it is almost time for Ronde to take up the offer of a week's golf in Scotland that we planned last October at Wembley.
Assuming Ronde moves more into a nickel role in 2010, that will leave one corner manned by third-year rising star Aqib Talib. A favourite to many except taxi drivers, Talib has already proven himself worthy of his first round selection in 2008. An improved Buccaneer team in 2010 will give him a chance of all-NFC accolades based on his past form.
But the other spot is up for grabs and the current list of audition invitees make you wonder if Rod "Toast" Jones would have a chance starting against them. OK perhaps not. Myron Lewis has been under the radar since the draft but this guy can flat out play. To expect him to start from day one is a stretch but expect to see him opening games by the end of the year.
Elbert "Return of the " Mack returns from an unspectacular year as the nickel back in 2009 and doesn't really offer much in the way of special teams help either. He could be under threat from 2009 draft pick EJ Biggers.
At safety, it looks like a combination of Tanard Jackson and then either Sean Jones or Sabby Piscitelli. Jackson is one of the better free safeties in the NFL and makes his 4th round selection in 2007 one of the better ones by GruAllen.
But strong safety is up for grabs with the former Eagle Jones and the former decent tackler Piscitelli battling it out. The loser will see spot time and special teams action, as will punt blocker extraordinaire Corey Lynch.
Long-time Buc Jermaine Phillips is still unofficially on the roster but is a free agent and has had as much interest from around the NFL as I have the past few weeks.
Whatever happens with the secondary in 2010, they will be better than last year simply on account of the Bucs having a better pass rush. To think how well the backfield did with the likes of Hovan and Sims "rushing the passer" (their words not mine), the McCoy-Price-Miller trio will give Ronde and his boys less time to have to cover receivers.
You've been great - enjoy Wang Chung.
Paul Stewart, TBO.com, June 2010