TAMPA — Leonard Johnson was on the field for 65 percent of Bucs defensive plays last year, but former Bears DB D.J. Moore has the early lead for the starting nickel defensive back job.
"We've got some competition, but D.J., his history and his background kind of give him a leg up right now," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Tuesday, speaking to the media after practice. "With D.J.'s experience, he's been in this system, had a lot of success in it in Chicago. Leonard (is) learning the system, he's fighting to earn the spot and he's a very good special-teams player as well."
Moore, 27, had 10 interceptions from 2010-12 in the nickel role in Lovie Smith's defense, and that familiarity is a major advantage, even though he totaled only five tackles in two games with the Panthers last season. Johnson, 24, had 62 tackles last season while starting eight games, returning an interception 48 yards for a touchdown.
Given the prominent role of the passing game, the Bucs expect to be in their nickel defense — with five defensive backs — more often than with three linebackers, so the nickel is a key position.
Frazier said veteran Danny Gorrer was also getting reps at nickel.
STILL NO NICKS: G Carl Nicks (toe) continues to be absent from voluntary workouts, and the Bucs continue to say little about his status with the team.
"That's out of my office," offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford said. "That's a bigger office."
Nicks signed a $47.5 million contract in 2012, but foot surgery and MRSA have limited him to nine games since then.
Offensive line coach George Warhop referred questions about Nicks' future to Smith, who did not speak with reporters Tuesday. Warhop said it's too early to evaluate the guard options; Oniel Cousins worked with the first team at left guard, and Jamon Meredith lined up at right guard during drills.
The Bucs drafted G Kadeem Edwards and T Kevin Pamphile, and Warhop said they have made few mistakes.
"They're learning some things technically that they haven't had to do in college," Warhop said, "but I'm pleased at their progress at this point."
FOSTER IN COVERAGE: Coaches are tight-lipped this time of year, but the Bucs won't deny the responsibility of MLB Mason Foster to drop into coverage in the rebooted Tampa 2 defense.
"Historically the Mike linebacker has had a responsibility in pass coverage," linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson said. "That's something that hasn't changed, and I don't think will change here in the near future."
Three of Foster's five career interceptions came last season.
INJURY UPDATE: WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson were again held out of drills because of hamstring injuries. S Mark Barron was limited, and S Dashon Goldson and CB Alterraun Verner were among those present who did not participate. DT Gerald McCoy was not present but said afterward that he was lifting weights during practice.
DUNGY VISIT: Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy watched practice from the sideline, wearing a visitor's badge.