TAMPA, Fla. -- When your pass defense (almost all by itself) sinks an entire season, there’s only one thing to do. You go overboard to fix it.
That’s the approach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed Friday night as they drafted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round (43rd overall). That comes a little less than a week after the Bucs pulled off a huge trade to get cornerback Darrelle Revis, not very long after they restructured Eric Wright's contract to keep the cornerback around and only a little more than a month after the they signed free-agent safety Dashon Goldson.
Call it double dipping or triple dipping or whatever you want. The bottom line is, at least on paper, the Bucs have a much better secondary than they did last season. As dramatic as their approach is, it really isn’t that surprising.
General manager Mark Dominik has shown a tendency to lock in on one area and hit it several times over in the past. In 2009, Dominik used draft picks on wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. In 2010, the position of choice was defensive tackle with the Bucs taking Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their first two draft picks.
In 2011, the Bucs used their first two picks on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. This time around, the Bucs got Goldson and Revis in advance and followed that by doubling down on Banks, the winner of last season’s Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
“We’ve increased our size, physicality and ball skills,” Dominik said.
The days of relying on the likes of journeyman E.J. Biggers and undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson to go against NFC South receivers like Roddy White, Julio Jones, Steve Smith and Marques Colston are over over.
With Revis, the Bucs might have the best cornerback on the planet, if his surgically repaired knee is fully healthy. In Wright, the Bucs have a reclamation project. He was signed to a big free-agent contract last offseason, but served a four-game suspension last season and wasn’t that great when he did play. But Wright took a massive cut in pay and the Bucs still believe he can be a factor.
In Banks, 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, the Bucs have added a big physical cornerback. Banks’ draft stock tumbled because he ran a slow time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but the Bucs don’t think that’s indicative of his real quickness.
“You never felt that because he has such good length and ball skills,’’ Dominik said. “We felt like when you watch the tape, it’s not the same as he ran at the combine.”
Dominik and coach Greg Schiano weren’t ready to say exactly how they plan to use their cornerbacks.
“That all comes as part of the competition,” Schiano said. “You let it play out.”
But it’s not too hard to see how this is going to play out. Revis is automatically a starter. It really doesn’t matter if Banks or Wright is the other starter. When the Bucs go to the nickel package, which will be often, Banks is a natural on the outside and Wright is best suited to move inside and line up on slot receivers.
Speaking of sorting things out, it still remains to be seen what happens with veteran safety/cornerback Ronde Barber. Back at the start of the offseason, it looked like the Bucs needed Barber to return for another season.
But the free safety spot he played last season is now occupied by Goldson. The top three cornerbacks are now set. Will Barber come back as a third safety or a fourth cornerback? Dominik said Friday night the Bucs still would like Barber to return, but it remains unclear what role he would have.
“When Ronde reaches out, we’ll have a conversation and we’ll talk through that,” Dominik said.
The Barber situation will play out. If he returns, he’ll be in some sort of backup role.
The Bucs are set with Revis, Banks and Wright at cornerback. They’re set with Goldson and Mark Barron, last year’s first-round pick, at safety.
Over the past six weeks, the Bucs have gone to great extremes to make sure they no longer have the league’s worst secondary.