Rookie Ryan Smith will be a cornerback for Bucs
Fourth-round draft pick Ryan Smith didn't play a single snap on defense in 2016, working exclusively on special teams, and after spending most of his rookie season practicing at safety, he'll go back to cornerback moving forward, coach Dirk Koetter said Monday.
"We're moving Ryan back to corner full-time," Koetter said. "He played both in college. We originally thought because of his size, that we wanted to try to play him as a safety. He got a little bit behind because he got injured in OTAs. Over the course of the year, through his play on scout team, it became apparent. We have very high hopes for him longterm at corner. He went up against Mike Evans every day. He did a really nice job as the season went along on special teams ... I think that draft pick there is going to turn out just fine."
When Russell Shepard was pressed into a larger role on offense, Smith took over as a gunner and shined on punt coverage -- his play, keeping a punt out of the end zone to avoid a touchback in the closing minutes against the Saints in Week 14 was a "SportsCenter" No. 1 highlight. Smith was the Bucs' primary kickoff returner for much of the season and Tampa Bay finished last in the NFL in average kickoff return -- 14.6 yards -- but Smith's average of 16.9 yards on his 10 returns was better than the 12.5 yards the Bucs averaged on 11 returns by other players.
The Bucs return both starters at cornerback in veteran Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, but could make changes in their backups if veteran Alterraun Verner isn't brought back with an expensive salary. Two young players split time at nickel in Jude Adjei-Barimah and undrafted rookie Javien Elliott, and both will be back to compete for secondary roles in 2017 as well.