TAMPA — The NFL’s most fluid cornerback rotation will feature its seventh starting unit in as many games Sunday against the Bears.
Veteran Richard Sherman’s strained hamstring assures the Bucs will have a different starting tandem (or trio, if the team begins in a nickel alignment) than they did for the Eagles game, which differed from the one that started against the Dolphins, which was different from the Patriots game. And so on.
“We haven’t made the decision on who’s starting, but everybody’s going to play,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said Thursday. “We need all hands on deck, so we’re rotating everybody pretty evenly right now. We’ll make that determination some time (Friday).”
Third-year veteran Jamel Dean is certain to start at one spot, with 31-year-old Pierre Desir (elevated from the practice squad three weeks ago), or journeyman Dee Delaney likely to get the nod on the other side. Ross Cockrell, a converted safety, projects as the nickel corner.
Cockrell has allowed six completions of 20 or more yards this season, third-most in the NFL according to The NFL on CBS.
Delaney was thrust into duty last week in Philadelphia, playing 46 defensive snaps after Sherman went down early. Desir, a special-teams fixture, played six defensive snaps.
Sherman, meantime, will remain a coach of sorts, Bowles indicated. The 33-year-old All-Pro, who was not in a preseason camp, signed with the Bucs on Sept. 29 and proceeded to start three games over the next 15 days before suffering his injury.
He joins opening-night starters Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow) and Carlton Davis (quad) on the sideline.
“Unfortunate he got hurt, but he’s been a big help on the sideline as far as coaching — in practice and in games,” Bowles said. “Helping Dean, helping Dee, helping Pierre, helping all the corners — and the safeties from that aspect — see things differently and give them little tips that way, and I think that’s been worth its weight in gold.”
Fortunately for the Bucs, this week’s opponent isn’t expected to pose a formidable passing challenge. Chicago, now starting rookie Justin Fields, ranks last in the NFL in passing offense (117.2 ypg) and has allowed a league-high 22 sacks.
“You never know with a young quarterback what’s going to happen, and we’ve got to do a really good job of disciplinary rushing him,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t put any stock in stats.”
A look at the Bucs’ starting cornerbacks in each of their first six games:
Cowboys: Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis
Falcons: Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis
Rams: Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, Ross Cockrell
Patriots: Carlton Davis, Richard Sherman, Ross Cockrell
Dolphins: Richard Sherman, Jamel Dean
Eagles: Richard Sherman, Jamel Dean, Ross Cockrell
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