TAMPA — The morning after the Bucs' season ended in January, former Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner had accepted the real possibility he had played his last game with the Bucs after an up-and-down season in a struggling Tampa Bay secondary.
"We all know that it's a business, and there's going to be no hard feelings … at the end of the day," he said of the chance the Bucs would go in another direction.
The Bucs made a much larger change, of course, firing coach Lovie Smith and his defensive staff, a move that gave Verner — due to make $6.75 million this season — a clean slate with a new coaching staff that included assistant Brett Maxie, who helped him to a Pro Bowl season with the Titans in 2013.
So on Thursday, after the Bucs' first practice of training camp, Verner was again working with the first-team defense, part of a revamped secondary that includes Pro Bowl player Brent Grimes and first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves.
"It's fair to say it's a second chance, and we all relish that," said Verner, 27. "None of us started a whole year. We were in and out with a lot of shuffling going on. … In life, you don't usually get these type of chances to prove yourself all over again. We're all thankful for the opportunity and that's why we're going to compete. We know it's going to be cutthroat at the end of the day."
The Bucs will frequently have three corners on the field in their nickel defense, which was on the field more than the base defense last season to handle the rise of three-receiver offensive sets.
First-year Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter knows Verner well, having faced him for years as an offensive coordinator before coming to the Bucs last season.
"Alterraun's a smart player, No. 1," Koetter said. "I think Alterraun's a solid NFL corner, and he's in a good competition. We've really improved our depth at corner, so he's in for a battle. As long as he keeps playing to his strengths, he'll do fine. He's definitely in a competition, but he's off to a good start."
The Bucs also have a former starter in Johnthan Banks competing to regain a starting role with free agency looming in 2017, along with Jude Adjei-Barimah, a starter in the second half of last season, as well as free-agent signee Josh Robinson. There is optimism and excitement, replacing what was uncertainty at best at the end of 2015 had the same coaching staff returned with the Bucs.
"The statistics, the record, a lot of things, plenty (was) against certain people," Verner said. "It's the NFL, there's never hard feelings as I said. This team was going to do what they felt would help the team. I was prepared for any type of situation, but it's fortunate that I am back, and hopefully they see me as a piece that can help out still with this team. I'm going to come out and work every day. It's a blessing to be out here."
Verner had high praise for Hargreaves, the former Wharton and Gators star taken No. 11 overall in April's draft. Hargreaves has worked both outside and in the slot in the nickel package.
"He's been great, to be honest. I love the kid to death already," Verner said. "The dude is an awesome football player, as I saw during spring. The guy makes plays, but he's very humble, eager to learn. He leans on us, asks us questions. He's not afraid to admit his mistakes. He has a lot of qualities that are going to make him a great football player."
Verner is excited to reunite with Maxie — his title is defensive backs coach, working in conjunction with secondary coach Jon Hoke — and hopeful he can be as productive as he was the last time he worked with him.
"Maxie being here is going to have a strong indication of the type of player I was, how to work with me and get through to me," Verner said. "It's more that comfort level. I know how to approach him, what he's going to demand. It's definitely fun to have a familiar face, but it's not going to keep him from challenging me. He's going know what I can do, so he's not going to settle for anything less."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.