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Drafting LSU cornerback is no sure bet for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Published Feb. 26, 2012


LSU's Morris Claiborne is a legitimate top-five pick who could fill a hole on the Bucs defense.

So when they hired Tigers defensive backs coach Ron Cooper last week, there was speculation the Bucs were ready to hand an index card to commissioner Roger Goodell with the cornerback's name on it.

While it's true Claiborne will get lots of consideration if he's available and Cooper knows him as well as anyone, it's too early to pencil him into the Bucs lineup, coach Greg Schiano says.

"Somebody said to me, 'That's the only reason we hired him,' " Schiano said. "I said, 'Yeah, we would do that. We would jeopardize the entire football team for that.'

"No, we will have some inside info. But Ron is an exceptional secondary coach, obviously, by the way his guys have played."

Cooper, who began his coaching career in 1983, has produced the best defensive backs in the nation at LSU. This past season, Claiborne won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back while teammate and CB Tyrann Mathieu won the Bedarick Award as the nation's top defensive player. CB Patrick Peterson won both awards, then was the No. 5 overall pick in 2010.

"People love to say (Cooper) had great players," Schiano said. "Well, yeah. They weren't great players when they walked in the door. They were great talents. But to teach them how to play disciplined secondary?"

Schiano was a secondary coach with the Bears and hired Jeff Hafley, an assistant on his staff at Rutgers, to help Cooper in the secondary.

"Being a secondary coach for a head coach who was a secondary coach is not always fun," Schiano said. "Ron and I talked about it. But he worked for … Lou Holtz (at South Carolina). And there's no one tougher to coach the secondary for than Lou Holtz. We laughed about it, but he's an excellent coach, obviously, by the way his guys have performed."

One of the first things Schiano wants to focus on is big plays yielded by the defense, and that starts with the secondary.

"If you're going to be an aggressive defense, sometimes the (player) will come popping out of there," Schiano said. "It's okay, the 12- and 14-yard runs. It's the 60s, the 50s, the 40s … that just take the wind out of your sails, take the crowd out of the game."

Claiborne will be in the discussion if he's available but no more than Alabama RB Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon if they're available.

MARKET FOR JJ: Backup QB Josh Johnson will be an unrestricted agent and is expected to receive interest from several teams, including the Broncos.

It makes sense. The Broncos seem committed to Tim Tebow as their starter but plan to bring four to training camp. Johnson possesses many of the same skills as a runner to execute that offense. But the Bucs might have an interest in retaining Johnson, who is 0-5 as a starter and has completed 54.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

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FRONT SEVEN COACH? As a player, LB Bryan Cox was an effective pass rusher. Perhaps that's why his responsibilities as a front-seven specialist will be working with linemen and linebackers. In fact, Schiano doesn't want his coaches to feel pigeonholed by their titles.

"One of the things I talked to all of our staff members about when we were doing interviews … was there's only one mission. That's to win football games," Schiano said. "There's no other side agenda. So whether you're the linebackers coach or the defensive line coach or the front-seven specialist, one day you may be working with the (strongside linebackers) and the next day I may be working with the (middle linebackers) and (weakside linebackers).

"Whatever fits to get us most prepared for that football game is what we'll do. And you'd better check your ego at the door, and I think we've been able to hire a group of guys that truly subscribe to that belief."