Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs may reach for new heights with future cornerbacks

The Bucs love their height advantage at receiver with a front line of pass catchers who are all 6 feet 5: Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. After the 2014 draft, general manager Jason Licht called them the "Dunkaneers."

So if bigger is better on that side of the ball, what about the guys who are assigned to cover sky-scraping receivers?

Outside of 6-2 CB Johnthan Banks, the Bucs come up a little short.

CB Tim Jennings is 5-8. Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins are listed at 5-10. All three have made the Pro Bowl, and Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions playing for Lovie Smith with the Bears in 2012. (For him to get that many picks, teams must have been throwing away from CB Charles Tillman).

It's not as if those three haven't overcome a vertical disadvantage to most wideouts in the league.

That said, the NFL is becoming more and more a game of space — creating it and filling it.

The rules against hitting defenseless receivers and quarterbacks have turned a lot of games into 7-on-7 drills. So the taller a player is, especially on defense, the better chance he has of knocking passes down.

In part, that's why there's no player returning from the bye week that the Bucs are happier about getting back than Banks for today's game against the Redskins. A year ago at Washington, he scored his first NFL touchdown with on an interception and ignited a 27-7 win.

"Just a good solid player," Smith said. "Of course, he played well against (Washington) last year, but he'll tackle. He's different from the rest of our DBs that we have because he has height and length and long arms. He's been a playmaker for us. Can't have too many good corners.

"We haven't been totally pleased with how we've played on the back end; that's been documented. To get another one of our guys who we start the season with as our starter back has to help."

DT Gerald McCoy was even more effusive.

"Banks, man, he's starting to become one of those guys, you can put him on anybody and you know he is going to handle his business," McCoy said. "He's starting to be more consistent with it, and it's huge to have him back.

"He had a big game against (Washington) last year, so his eyes are real big waiting to get back out there."

Smith admits height and arm length can be real assets on defense. But the Bucs are a Cover 2 team that isn't always going to put their corners in man-to-man situations. They also put an emphasis on having their corners tackle in run support and set the edge.

"Well, (height is) becoming more and more of a factor as we look at it," Smith said. "Offensively speaking, we like those big receivers. We should have an advantage on some of those smaller cornerbacks. Seems like the smaller corners didn't get that memo. They've been that height all their life. For some reason, they tend to play up a little taller than they are.

"If you're playing a defense where you're just locking up in single coverage with a small DB-big receiver, you're going to have some issues then. We try not to put ourselves in that position very often."

Look for the Bucs to address the cornerback position early in the draft next year. And chances are, the player they select will be at least 6 feet tall.

TWO IN A ROW: The Bucs haven't won back-to-back games since Nov. 11-24 2013, when they had three consecutive victories under Greg Schiano. Many things are on the line today, Smith said: "To be able to get two wins in a row, to be able to play well two (games) in a row, to be able to get an NFC road win … even up our record."

THREE IN A ROW? Against the Jaguars in the Bucs' last game, RB Doug Martin rushed for 123 yards, his second consecutive 100-yard game. With 100 or more yards against the Redskins, he will become the third running back in team history to post at least three consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards. The others are James Wilder, six games in 1985, and Cadillac Williams, three games in 2005.

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