TAMPA — The Bucs invested to upgrade their defensive secondary in the offseason, drafting Vernon Hargreaves in the first round and signing Pro Bowl veteran Brent Grimes at cornerback.
That new pass defense gets a stern test right away Sunday in the season opener against Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, who led the NFL with 1,871 receiving yards last season.
"He's a big problem," Bucs CB Alterraun Verner said Monday. "Somebody that you definitely love to have on your team, somebody that you hate guarding against. But that type of challenge, I think, is what we all fuel off of … whoever is going to be guarding him is going to have an opportunity to make a play on the ball. So it's very exciting, especially Week 1, to go against somebody that caliber."
Jones, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, has played well against the Bucs; he had 12 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting last season, then eight for 93 in the second, both Bucs wins. For his career he averages seven catches for 116 yards, with six career touchdowns in eight games, against Tampa Bay.
"I think they really have a big three right now," coach Dirk Koetter said of Atlanta's Jones, QB Matt Ryan and RB Devonta Freeman. "They have three really, really fine football players — 'game wreckers' as we like to call them."
Tweaking: The Bucs continue to look at options to upgrade, not only signing WR Cecil Shorts on Tuesday but working out several other players. That included former Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers, who played under Koetter in Atlanta from 2012-14 and could address two areas of concern: The No. 3 running back job and the still-open kickoff return job. Rodgers left without signing, and the Bucs also looked at former Florida State RB Antone Smith, who also played under Koetter in Atlanta.
This and that: The Bucs issued their first regular-season depth chart, with three jobs too close to call. The starting tight end job was listed as Cameron Brate or Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and the corner opposite Grimes was listed as either Verner or Hargreaves. The primary kickoff return job listed rookie S Ryan Smith or WR Adam Humphries. … Clearwater High graduate Jeremiah George, a third-year linebacker who was among the Bucs' final cuts, was signed Tuesday to the Cowboys' practice squad. … Rookie LB Luke Rhodes, cut on Friday, worked out for the Jaguars but was not immediately signed to their practice squad.