Tampa Bay Bucs Position Analysis: Secondary

Lee MatthewsCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

DENVER - OCTOBER 05:  Cornerback Ronde Barber #20 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defends against  the Denver Broncos during NFL action on October 5, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Buccaneers 16-13.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

A new second-year starting cornerback and nickelback. Two third-year safeties, one entering his first season as a starter.
Like so many facets of the Buccaneers, the secondary will be quite different than 2008.

Cornerback Ronde Barber returns for his 13th, and likely final, season with the Bucs. The last remaining starter from the Bucs' Super Bowl championship, Barber no longer is the playmaker he was early in his career—former coordinator Monte Kiffin often used Barber as a blitzing corner earlier in his career.

But the veteran will be counted on more as a leader in the secondary, with cornerback Phillip Buchanon gone and former strong safety Jermaine Phillips likely to be at outside linebacker. Barber, a perfect fit for the Kiffin's Cover-2, will be asked to play more man coverage prefered by Bates.

Around Barber is youth. Last seasons' No. 1 pick, Aqib Talib will take over for Buchanon at corner, Savvy Piscitelli will begin his first season as a starter at strong safety, third-year man Tenard Jackson returns at free safety, and former free agent Elbert Mack is the front runner for the nickel job.

The Bucs have enough confidence in Talib that they told Buchanon during the offseaon that if he resigned, he'd be the third corner. Talib played well as the Bucs' nickel back in 2008, and the Bucs' brass thinks his future is very bright. Bates' scheme will certainly benefit from Talib's coverage skills.

Strong safety Piscitelli struggled at times in what was essentially his rookie season after being injured early in 2007. The Bucs missed Philllips' run-stuffing ability once Piscitelli took over in Week 12, but the Bucs love the third-year safety's athleticism and play-making ability. A season under his belt should help.

Free safety Jackson was sensation as a rookie on 2007, and has started every game his frst two NFL seasons. The Bucs would like to see him develop as more of a ballhawk (one pick in '09), but he remains steady in a secondary undergoing changes. 

Third corner is the Bucs' biggest question mark. After beating out veteran Eugene Wilson for the fourth corner job in camp in 2008, former rookie free agent Elbert Mack filled in briefly in the secondary, but remains largely untested.

The only other options the Bucs have are special teamer Torrie Cox, who missed last season with a knee injury, 2008 practice squad member Kyle Arrington, and seventh-round pick E.J. Biggers.

At safety, depth is just as thin. Former starter Will Allen is a top special teamer and has started at both safety spots. Allen, however, struggles over stretches with mental lapses when asked to play either spot. Special teamer Donte Nicholson goes to camp as the fourth safety.

CB  Talib              Cox                Arrington
CB  Barber            Mack              Biggers
SS Picitelli            Nicholson
FS Jackson           Allen


Player Outlook
Ronde Barber

The end is near, but the Bucs still need his play and leadership at a thin spot.
Aqib Talib
Impressed Bucs with play in nickel. Takes over as starter and looks like could future no. 1 corner.
Elbert Mack
Largely untested second-year man is the front runner for the nickel corner job. It's his position to lose.
Torrie Cox
After another knee injury, the vet must have a big camp to avoid being passed over by younger players. Almost exclusively a special teamer.
Kyle Arrington
Former free agent gets a shot after season on practice squad, has a chance at fourth corner job.
E.J. Biggers
Backup jobs are open, so a solid camp will earn him a job. Has impressive speed. (4.38).

Tanard Jackson

Solid free safety can take step in '09 to be more of a leader.
Savvy Piscitelli
Must prove he's learned from 2008 and become more of a run-stopping force.
Will Allen
Top special teamer has started a both safety spots. Provides adequate depth.
Donte Nicholson
Has been released and resigned several times in his career. The fourth safety is strictly a special teamer.