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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' nickel back battle heats up

Like Sundays (sort of): From left, corner Derrick Roberson, linebacker Jon Alston and corner Elbert Mack take the field for Saturday night’s practice at Raymond James Stadium.


Like Sundays (sort of): From left, corner Derrick Roberson, linebacker Jon Alston and corner Elbert Mack take the field for Saturday night’s practice at Raymond James Stadium.

TAMPA — There were times last season when the Bucs' desperation, perhaps, drove them to consider posting a Craigslist ad in their effort to find cornerback help.

Concurrent injuries to Aqib Talib, Elbert Mack and Torrie Cox against Atlanta on Nov. 29 forced little-known Derrick Roberson into the lineup two weeks after his promotion from the practice squad.

It was an example of how thin the cornerback unit had become.

Which brings us to the battle for the nickel back role. The addition of third-round pick Myron Lewis as well as a return from injury by 2009 draft choice E.J. Biggers has created a competitive situation with Mack at a crucial position.

The nickel cornerback, or fifth defensive back, plays in most passing situations, which nowadays is increasingly common.

"Nickel is just like being a starter," said Mack, who held the job last season and currently seems to lead. "You never know what (personnel) a team is going to start the game with. A couple times last year, they started out in (three-wide). Next thing you know, you're a starter.

"You get a lot of snaps because the league is changing. The league is becoming a passing league. Playing the nickel is a tough job."

Lewis is still in a learning stage, but coaches have high hopes once he reaches a comfort level. Biggers, meanwhile, is beginning to flash after a strong camp last season was followed by a season-ending shoulder injury just before the season.

"It's a battle between all the corners," Lewis said. "Everyone's working hard. Everyone wants to show the coaches they can be that guy. I'm just battling, trying to prove myself."

Said Biggers: "Things are coming back together for me. I'm just taking the coaching every day. I'm watching the older guys. I'm really watching Aqib. He'll go get (an interception) and make me want to go get one."

Even if Mack, a third-year player, has the edge in experience, he isn't assured of the nickel back job now or in the long term, when the youngsters grow more comfortable. The one thing he and the other cornerbacks can anticipate, however, is being called upon.

"Everybody can't be a starter," Mack said. "Most teams keep five, maybe six corners, and two of them are starters. The other three or four are definitely going to be contributors."

HIGH PRAISE: Coach Raheem Morris spoke Saturday about his collective impression of the team's receivers, saying this group could rival some of the best the Bucs have had. He said without equivocation it is the best unit, top to bottom, in his tenure with the Bucs, which dates to 2002.

"I don't know if we've seen this dynamic of a group in Tampa in a long time," Morris said. "Not to take any credit away from Joey Galloway or Antonio Bryant or what any particular person was able to do. But this type of a group, I don't remember from being the (secondary) coach here and going out every day like, 'Oh, man, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn’ and seeing these guys move around like they do."

INJURIES: Lewis and DT Brian Price missed Saturday's morning practice with hamstring injuries. But Morris stressed neither is serious. Price has been dealing with the injury off and on for a few months, and he returned on a limited basis for the night practice.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' nickel back battle heats up 08/07/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 7, 2010 10:46pm]
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