TAMPA — When the Bucs moved longtime starting SS Jermaine Phillips to linebacker during the offseason, the move spoke volumes about the team's confidence in his replacement, Sabby Piscitelli.
When the third-year player presumably starts for the first time this fall, it will quickly become clear whether the Bucs' faith in Piscitelli was justified.
Having started five of the final eight games of 2008 in place of the injured Phillips, Piscitelli says preparations for 2009 began long ago.
"I feel as (2008) went on, even though we weren't winning in the last four games, I was making an effort to improve my game and put my team in position to have a chance to win the game," he said. "I felt like, of course, I could have done better, because we lost, but I felt like I was improving."
For better or worse, Piscitelli got extensive playing time in 2008. There were misreads and occasional missed tackles, but each snap provided Piscitelli with a learning experience.
The learning continues, particularly when it comes to absorbing defensive coordinator Jim Bates' new scheme. The Bucs cornerbacks will employ a good deal of man-to-man coverage, a stark change for what was a zone-heavy unit for years. So the safeties will, in theory, be able to freelance a bit more, allowing them to make plays on the ball.
Piscitelli, 25, is adamant the safeties will be in position to make game-changing plays as a result of their modified duties.
"It's not dramatically different … but I think this scheme definitely allows myself and Tanard (Jackson) to be more aggressive," the 2007 second-round pick said. "I think this is a playmaking scheme. I think we're going to have a lot more interceptions. I think that's true for the whole secondary. We're going to have a lot more opportunities to put our hands on the ball."
He added: "They expect the safeties to be the two best athletes on the field, I think. We can really go out there and make a lot of plays."
CLOSING IN? With rookie DL Kyle Moore spending a lot of time as an interior rusher, at least for the moment, it could mean veteran Jimmy Wilkerson is taking ownership of left defensive end. Coaches have said Wilkerson and Moore would battle for the job, assuming a player isn't added before the season starts.
There aren't a great deal of candidates to replace Kevin Carter at the position. Stylez White is an effective rusher, but an attempt to play him at left end in 2008 didn't pan out.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.