TAMPA — Preseason or not, Thursday night was the NFL debut for Bucs second-round pick Johnthan Banks.
Nothing he did as a top-flight cornerback in the Southeastern Conference would matter any longer. His status as the 2012 Thorpe Award winner instills no fear in opponents at this level.
It didn't matter. Banks looked like he belonged against the Super Bowl champion Ravens. In fact, he looked like a starter, taking on standout receiver Torrey Smith during the game's first two series, and making tackles in the open field in run support.
It was the sort of performance the Bucs could only hope for from their top 2013 pick, and it should solidify Banks' effort to land a starting job across from All-Pro Darrelle Revis, who didn't play, as expected.
Banks, the 43rd overall draft choice from Mississippi State, finished with five tackles. What the stat sheet didn't reflect was his ability to stay step for step in coverage. Banks allowed two catches for 16 yards by Smith, but both were quick throws by Joe Flacco, with Banks preventing additional yardage after the catch.
The Bucs have reshaped their secondary dramatically since last year's unit lodged the worst numbers in the NFL, threatening to break an all-time record for passing yards allowed.
There's Revis, brought in via a trade with the Jets. And there's All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson, who will patrol the deep middle of the field.
But Banks is a major part of that restructuring, too, and if he can build on his debut, the Bucs might have something.
One of the most notable aspects of Banks' game Thursday was his physicality. On his second play, he upended 260-pound fullback Vonta Leach in the open field. Later, Banks came downhill and exploded into running back Bernard Pierce, stopping him after a 1-yard gain.
Given Revis' reputation for being a sure-handed tackler, plus the ability of safeties Goldson and Mark Barron to get their hands on ball carriers, the Bucs can look forward to physical play from their secondary.
Banks is battling second-year man Leonard Johnson for a starting job, but Banks' status as a early round draft pick and his encouraging performance both Thursday night and in training camp have established him as the frontrunner.
Thursday might have been his debut, but Banks looked like he had been there before.