Commentary | Bucs must choose productivity over size when evaluating cornerbacks

adell@bradenton.comJune 11, 2014 

Southeast High product Mike Jenkins, who recently signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signs an autograph before Friday's DRC Foundation Celebrity Slam Jam at Southeast. TIMOTHY R. WOLFRUM/Bradenton Herald

Size continues to be a popular topic of conversation as the Tampa Bay Bucs wrap up their offseason workouts this week with mandatory mini-camp.

Every team wants taller cornerbacks, but not everyone agrees height is a necessity.

NBA history is full of 7-footers who flopped.

Every receiving corps in the Bucs' NFC South has gotten bigger. And Tampa Bay will face every team in the NFC North, and they've already got their share of skywalkers, led by Chicago's Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall.

But Bucs secondary coach Gil Byrd, a four-time All-Pro when he played (1983-92), says size is over-rated.

"Size isn't the issue. You are only as valuable as the plays you make," Byrd says. "It is going out and not just being active, but being productive. That is what we want, players to be productive, not just active."

At 5-foot-10, Alterraun Verner has already locked up a starting spot at cornerback. The other cornerback slot is being hotly contested between Mike Jenkins (5-10) and second-year man Johnthan Banks (6-2).

That battle looks like a dead heat right now.

It was originally thought that the one who doesn't get the spot will move to the slot, but that is no longer written in stone.

One thing certain is that the Bucs secondary will look a lot different than last year in its approach, and it's got little to do with a change in personnel.

Byrd appears to be the perfect person to carry the message that new head coach Lovie Smith expects a defense that is known for creating turnovers.

Byrd is working hard to get Smith's point of view across by demanding his players scoop up and return every loose ball on the field, including incomplete passes.

"You want to develop good habits," Byrd said. "By doing this you are constantly reminding players the ball is what this game is all about and creating those takeaways."

Every defensive coach wants turnovers, but Smith's defenses seem to be better than most. In his 12 years as a defensive coordinator or head coach, his teams have intercepted at least 20 passes eight seasons.

Verner figures to be a perfect fit for the Bucs' Cover 2 defense, but Jenkins is no slouch. The Southeast High product and USF All-American showed his physicality last year with Oakland when he had two interceptions and eight passes defended. Smith praised him Tuesday and has brought up more than a few times those five interceptions Jenkins got in 2009.

The Bucs have a good size cornerback in 6-2 Rashaan Melvin, who has had some impressive moments during workouts.

"Big cornerbacks are hard to come by. I can't wait to get him into camp and put him in some live situations," Smith said."It should be a good competition at that cornerback position. Mike Jenkins has done well."

The Bucs will need all three cornerbacks against some of the competition they face.

They have six games against the Panthers, Saints and Falcons.

Carolina has added 6-5 rookie Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State to join 6-5 tight end Greg Olson. The Saints still have hybrid tight end 6-7 Jimmy Graham and 6-4 Marquis Colston and added 6-3 cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptist to handle the Bucs new set of twin towers Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and cagy veteran 6-5 Vince Jackson. Atlanta has 6-3 sky scrapper Julio Jones and Roddy White who plays a lot bigger than his six-foot frame

Smith said there is a depth chart and it got a little firmer, but it's in his head and no players are going to see it for awhile.

Copeland makes case

Since he changed his diet and training habits three years ago, Damian Copeland has been injury-free and his health is helping him in more ways than he could've imagined.

An undrafted free agent, Copeland signed with Jacksonville, joining what was initially a crowded receiving corps.

But injuries hit that unit hard, and it helped the Palmetto native, who was one of only four healthy receivers for the Jaguars last week. It meant more reps for the former Louisville standout, and he has capitalized on the opportunity.

The 6-1, 190-pounder even found himself getting playing time with the Jags' first unit last week.

He caught the eye of Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley, who mentioned Copeland in the same group with draft picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.

Ace Sanders is one of those Jags who has been out, though it doesn't appear critical. The Manatee High product is dealing with a hamstring injury, and the Jaguars are taking a cautionary approach with the second-year pro.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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