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Moore's shift to nickel leaves Bucs thin at corner

The Bucs' decision Monday to shift free agent Sterling Moore from cornerback to nickel is a boost to a key position in Tampa Bay's passing defense, but leaves the Bucs thin at cornerback behind starters Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks.

Especially when facing a three-receiver set, the Bucs take their strongside linebacker off the field and replace him with a fifth defensive back -- thus the "nickel" terminology -- with Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey manning the position last year. The two were on the field for a combined 45 percent of the Bucs' defensive plays, making it nearly as much a starter as the third linebacker.

When Moore was signed, it was presumed he would take over as the starting nickel, but he'd worked exclusively at corner, with coaches saying they were concerned about the team's depth there. Saturday's opener did little to lessen those concerns, but it showed a need to get Moore on the field more, prompting a change in the very next practice.

"We wanted to get to a game and see where we are, and then we wanted to start moving guys in hopefully their rightful position," coach Lovie Smith said after Monday's practice. "He has deserved that."

So who is left as backup corners for the Bucs? It starts with veteran Mike Jenkins, who missed nearly all of last season with injury but has consistently worked with the second defense in camp. He was beaten on a touchdown pass in Saturday's game, though Smith also put some of the blame on safety Chris Hackett not being deep enough to support in coverage.

After Jenkins, it's a group of four corners with limited experience, starting with second-year pro Brandon Dixon, who was in a similar role last year after the Bucs signed the Jets draft pick after he was waived, finishing with nine tackles as a rookie. Frey, who was the backup nickel last year, now is getting work with the corners and has the most experience of the rest, with 15 tackles last year and 74 in his three-year NFL career. The only other two on roster are rookies Jude Adjei-Barimah and Al-Hajj Shabazz, who joined the team just as camp started.

"We have a group of guys," Smith said of his options for backups at corner. "Mike Jenkins is getting the next reps, and from there, there are a group of other players we are looking at a little bit."

Those backups will need to play well in Monday's preseason home game against the Bengals, and there's a chance the Bucs will use their priority position in waiver claims to address the position with a player cut elsewhere, as they did last year with Dixon.

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