It’s never too early for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start fixing a secondary that made nearly every quarterback look like a Pro Bowler last season.
Besides allowing quarterbacks to complete 70 percent of their passes, the Bucs’ cornerbacks had only two interceptions (six by the secondary) while the defense allowed a passer rating of 102.5.
After making the secondary a high priority during the offseason, the Bucs saw some immediate dividends on the second day of camp, which they hope will carry into the regular season.
Free agent acquisition Brent Grimes picked off a Jameis Winston pass and just missed another while displaying some NBA leaping ability, and Alterraun Verner showed that maybe his shortcomings last year might have been caused by not being properly utilized.
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A Pro Bowler in each of his last three years with the Miami Dolphins when he picked off 13 passes, Grimes is expected to bring a multitude of assets that includes serving as a mentor for the young guys in the secondary.
“It was a nice play by Brent. That wasn’t a great decision by (quarterback) Jameis (Winston), unfortunately,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “That was actually probably Jameis’ first bad decision in two days, but we’ve been getting after Grimes with some double moves —he got us on that one.”
With so much riding on Winston, Koetter might be concerned about an errant throw, but if the secondary doesn’t improve, this team will struggle to better its six-win season of a year ago.
Verner is fighting to grab the right cornerback slot, where he showed so much promise during his time with the Tennessee Titans. And with his $6.75 million salary, the Bucs don’t want him as a backup.
“Alterraun’s a smart player, number one,” Koetter said. “We’ve really improved our depth at corner, so he’s in for a battle. But he’s a smart player, and as long as he keeps playing to his strengths, I think he’ll do fine. But he’s definitely in a competition. He’s off to a good start.”
The Bucs also got a good day’s work out of their top rookies, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and defensive end Noah Spence.
“We’re real fired up about both Vernon and Noah,” Koetter said. “Noah will obviously show up more when the pads come on. We’re quick whistling everything right now, but you ask any of our O-lineman, that guy’s lightning off the edge, so excited to see that guy in pads.”
Mike Evans has been heavily scrutinized during the first two days of camp with onlookers watching to see if he has improved from the dropped passes that plagued him a year ago.
“No one likes to see drops. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re never going to drop any balls,” Koetter said. “I’ve found in my career that the worst thing you can can say to a guy when he drops a ball is ‘Don’t drop the ball.’” Maybe we should just coach him on how to do it better, maybe we should just tell him to focus on watching it in, and I thought Mike did a good job of that today. You could really see Mike going out of his way to look it in.”