NFC South: Leonard Johnson

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the things the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t seen much of this preseason is their top cornerback.

That’s Alterraun Verner, who injured his hamstring on the third day of camp and missed an extended period. Verner began taking part in individual drills last week, but he’s going to take a bigger step in Tuesday’s practice. Verner is expected to take part in team drills, coach Lovie Smith said.

Smith also expressed some optimism that Verner might be able to play in the third preseason game at Buffalo on Saturday.

Verner
“This is the week that we’re gearing towards,’’ Smith said. “First off, the guys that line up with the first group, there’s a reason why they’re there. It’s not like we’re going to do an awful lot that last preseason game. So, for our players, if they’re going to play against Carolina [in the regular-season opener], we need to see them right now. If they’re not out there, we’re in a hole a little bit. Alterraun Verner, it’s important that he get out there and starts playing our defense and seeing his role and getting comfortable. That’s why we’re excited about getting him on the football field.’’

The Bucs have had their share of cornerbacks with injuries this preseason. In addition to Verner, Mike Jenkins and Rashaan Melvin have missed extended periods. Jenkins still isn’t practicing.

But getting Verner back should be good for the chemistry of the secondary. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has been working as a starter and Leonard Johnson has been the nickelback. Smith said he has been happy with what he has seen out of Banks. That could mean Jenkins is headed for a backup role.

Bucs put emphasis on nickelback

August, 6, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. – Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins are competing for a starting cornerback job. Ordinarily, logic would say the loser of that battle automatically becomes the nickelback.

But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are following some different logic in this situation. Coach Lovie Smith treats the nickelback position differently than most coaches. He views nickelback as a starting position and is so serious about it that he listed it that way on the team’s first depth chart.

Grimes
Johnson
Leonard Johnson was listed as the starting nickelback, and he already might have the job locked up. Johnson has been working as the first-team nickelback throughout camp and has done a good job against slot receivers.

Smith is right to put such an emphasis on nickelback. Most teams use five defensive backs about half of the time. The nickelback covers whoever lines up in the slot, and that could be anyone from Harry Douglas to Calvin Johnson.

Smith has taken the emphasis on nickelback one step further than most. He has an assistant coach (Larry Marmie) who is assigned to work exclusively with the nickelbacks.

There has been some movement at the other two cornerback positions in camp as Alterraun Verner and Jenkins have dealt with injuries. But there hasn’t been any change at nickelback. Johnson has been getting all the first-team reps.

Verner will be the starter at one cornerback spot. Johnson will be the starter at nickelback. Either Banks or Jenkins will start at the other cornerback spot. The loser of that competition will end up as the fourth cornerback.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have put out an unofficial depth chart in advance of Friday's preseason game. I emphasize that it's unofficial and should be used only as a starting point, but the depth chart does provide some interesting items.

Let's start with the offense. Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith are listed as the starting guards. I think those names are written in pencil because Patrick Omameh and Kadeem Edwards remain in the mix.

The other item of note on the starting offense is that Chris Owusu is listed as a starting wide receiver. I think that's simply a courtesy to a veteran. There's almost no doubt rookie Mike Evans will be starting when the regular season gets here.

On defense, there are no surprises among the starters, but it's worth noting that first-team cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins both have been out with injuries. Coach Lovie Smith considers nickelback a starting position and the depth chart features Leonard Johnson as the starting nickelback.

Another item of note on the defense is that Da'Quan Bowers, who has spent his career at defensive end, is listed as a second-team defensive tackle.

On special teams, Eric Page is listed as the first-team kickoff and punt returner, but the Bucs are going to use the preseason to take a look at some other candidates.

Who will be Bucs' nickelback?

March, 27, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run onto the field next season, they’re going to introduce 12 players instead of the standard 11.

Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.

The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.

Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.

“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cornerback Leonard Johnson, tight end Tim Wright, quarterback Mike Glennon, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and linebacker Lavonte David were the big winners for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL’s performance-based pool for 2013.

The pool is designed to compensate players who had relatively low salaries compared to their 2013 playing time. Dozens of Bucs received bonuses, but we’ll stick with the top ones here. The bonuses do not count toward the salary cap.

Johnson led the way with a $208,864 bonus. Wright ($200,592), Glennon ($183,209), Spence $181,593) and David ($180,190) rounded out the top five. The rest of the top 10 was made up of safety Keith Tandy ($152,646), cornerback Johnthan Banks ($145,655), linebacker Mason Foster ($133,268), receiver Tiquan Underwood ($127,927) and linebacker Dekoda Watson ($105,647).

Looking at playing time: Defense

January, 17, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We previously showed you the playing time for all of Tampa Bay's offensive players. Now, it's time to do the same for the defense.

The Buccaneers had 1,059 defensive plays. Here's the breakdown of the number of plays each defensive player participated in, followed by my quick take.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Gerald McCoy 962, Adrian Clayborn 933, Akeem Spence 694, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 602, William Gholston 312, Da'Quan Bowers 206, Gary Gibson 164, Derek Landri 123, Steven Means 77, Trevor Scott 54.

Quick take: Most teams rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh. But the Bucs didn't do that with McCoy and Clayborn. The theory behind that was that, even when a bit winded, they were substantially better than their backups. The rookie Gholston got a lot of playing time in the second half of the season.

LINEBACKERS: Lavonte David 1,022, Mason Foster 771, Dekoda Watson 257, Jonathan Casillas 197, Adam Hayward 187, Ka'Lial Glaud 6, Danny Lansanah 4.

Quick take: The Bucs played David as much as they possibly could because he might be the best player on the team. Some of Watson's snaps came at defensive end as the Bucs experimented with him at that position late in the season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Darrelle Revis 948, Johnthan Banks 939, Mark Barron 834, Dashon Goldson 807, Leonard Johnson 691, Keith Tandy 441, Ahmad Black 146, Kelcie McCray 101, Michael Adams 86, Danny Gorrer 83.

Quick take: Even though he wasn't 100 percent as he came back from knee surgery, the Bucs still used Revis a lot.

Looking at Buccaneers' playing time

December, 10, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- It's time for our weekly look at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers distributed playing time.

In a 27-6 victory against the Buffalo Bills, the Bucs ran 66 offensive plays and were on the field for 67 defensive snaps. Here's a look at the individual playing time from Sunday.

OFFENSE

Donald Penn 66
Jamon Meredith 66
Demar Dotson 66
Mike Glennon 66
Tim Wright 59
Vincent Jackson 57
Jeremy Zuttah 51
Tiquan Underwood 45
Davin Joseph 43
Erik Lorig 42
Bobby Rainey 37
Ted Larsen 36
Brian Leonard 25
Chris Owusu 21
Gabe Carimi 16
Russell Shepard 14
Kyle Adams 11
Skye Dawson 7
Mike Hill 5
Spencer Larsen 2
Eric Page 1

DEFENSE

Dashon Goldson 66
Johnthan Banks 66
Mark Barron 66
Gerald McCoy 66
Darrelle Revis 66
Lavonte David 59
Leonard Johnson 58
Adrian Clayborn 56
Mason Foster 53
Akeem Spence 43
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 39
William Gholston 23
Keith Tandy 15
Da'Quan Bowers 14
Adam Hayward 12
Steven Means 11
Derek Landri 11
Dekoda Watson 10
Danny Gorrer 1
Ka'Lial Glaud 1
Kelcie McCray 1

Buccaneers have lead at halftime

November, 24, 2013
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DETROIT -- Consider this an upset alert out of Ford Field.

At halftime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are leading the Detroit Lions 17-14. That lead came after cornerback Leonard Johnson picked off Matthew Stafford and returned the ball 48 yards for a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the first half.

The Bucs, who have yet to win on the road this season, have been playing well on defense. Gerald McCoy had pressure on Stafford on the interception and Darrelle Revis has been doing a nice job on Calvin Johnson.

Offensively, quarterback Mike Glennon led one nice touchdown drive. The Lions appear to be loading up to stop the run, so that means there’s room for Glennon and the passing game to do more in the second half.

I’ll be back with full coverage after the game.

Rookie Banks knows he'll be targeted

September, 2, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- It remains to be seen if cornerback Johnthan Banks has picked up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, but it’s pretty obvious the rookie is a smart guy.

Banks said he knows he’s going to have a target on him when the Buccaneers open their season against the New York Jets on Sunday. In fact, Banks knows opposing offenses are likely to challenge him all season.

“Who wouldn’t?" Banks said. “I’m a rookie and you’ve got (Darrelle) Revis on the (other) side. Me and (Leonard Johnson) have our work cut out for us. We get paid to do this. We’ve got to go out there and hold up."

It remains to be seen if Banks or Johnson will start. But whichever one doesn’t is going to get plenty of playing time in nickel packages.

Surveying the Buccaneers' roster

September, 1, 2013
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After making their cuts Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a roster that looks a lot like what I projected Friday.

I hit on 51 of 53 roster spots. Defensive tackle Gary Gibson and offensive lineman Cody Wallace were the two guys I had making the team who didn’t make the final cut. I didn’t have tight end Tim Wright and safety Keith Tandy making the roster, but they did.

Let’s take a brief overview of the composition of Tampa Bay’s roster:

QB (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Comment: The question is whether Glennon or Orlovsky will be the No. 2 quarterback. My thinking is the Bucs wouldn’t have held onto Orlovsky if he’s going to be No. 3.

RB (5): Doug Martin, Erik Lorig, Brian Leonard, Mike James and Peyton Hillis

Comment: Leonard, James and Hillis all looked good in the preseason. They all can be used to help keep Martin fresh.

WR (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Comment: The first four were pretty much set in stone. Page made the roster mostly because he’s going to be the return man.

TE (4): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Nate Byham and Tim Wright

Comment: Presumably, the Bucs kept Wright around because they expect Crabtree to miss some time with an ankle injury.

OL (8): Donald Penn, Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah, Davin Joseph, Demar Dotson, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith

Comment: By carrying only three backups, the Bucs appear to be optimistic that Nicks won’t miss too much time due to a staph infection.

DL (9): Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means, Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence and Derek Landri

Comment: McCoy, Spence and Landri are the only true defensive tackles. The Bucs must be planning to use at least one of their ends on the inside at times.

LB (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Jonathan Casillas, Dekoda Watson, Najee Goode and Adam Hayward

Comment: The starters have a chance to be one of the league’s best units, and the backups aren’t bad either.

DB (10): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Rashaan Melvin, Michael Adams, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Ahmad Black and Keith Tandy

Comment: This should be the most improved area on the team.

Specialists (3): Rian Lindell, Andrew Economos and Michael Koenen.

Comment: Lindell is the third projected kicker the Bucs have had. Connor Barth and Lawrence Tynes both are out with injuries.

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
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Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Ahmad Black.

Analysis: Melvin is very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis has yet to play a down for Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers already are getting a nice return on their investment.

Revis’ presence alone has helped in the development of rookie Johnthan Banks, who could be a starter on opening day.

“The biggest surprise for me is the type of person Revis is," Banks told the media Wednesday. “He’s like a player/coach. He’s always right there beside me giving me info, helping me out with all types of things. It just surprised me the type of player he is. You get some of those guys that are Hollywood guys -- he’s just one of us. He’s laid-back, he’s cool.”

Banks said he also has benefited from working against receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on a daily basis.

“I’ve learned a lot from those two guys," Banks said. “Every day it’s a grind going against those two guys -- [third receiver Kevin] Ogletree, too. But I’ve learned a lot going against VJ and Mike, [they] taught me the speed of the game. The first time I went against [Vincent] he ran by me at OTAs, I was like ‘Whoa.’ It was just eye-opening on how fast these players play and how hard they play.”

Banks and Leonard Johnson got most of the first-team work with Revis out. The Bucs likely will start Banks opposite Revis and let Johnson come in on nickel situations, or start Johnson and bring in Banks to play outside and use Johnson inside in nickel situations.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Friday marked a rite of summer at One Buccaneer Place. For the first time this season, we have a depth chart.

It’s officially unofficial, but it’s a starting point. Unlike the regular season, this depth chart is a guesstimate by the media relations staff and isn’t coming straight from the coaching staff.

There are no major surprises, but there are a few things worth noting.

Let’s start with the quarterbacks, because they always draw the most interest. As you would expect, Josh Freeman is listed as the starter. But rookie Mike Glennon is ahead of veteran Dan Orlovsky. I think that’s clearly a sign of things to come.

The rest of Tampa Bay’s rookies are being brought along slowly, at least according to the depth chart. Cornerback Johnthan Banks is listed on the second team, behind Leonard Johnson. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence is listed second behind Gary Gibson. In both cases, I think that’s just a courtesy to the veterans. I think Spence and Banks have very real chances to be starters on opening day.

Other positions of interest include strongside linebacker, where Dekoda Watson is listed ahead of Jonathan Casillas; right tackle, where Demar Dotson is ahead of Gabe Carimi; and tight end, where Luke Stocker, who has been sidelined by injury, is listed ahead of Tom Crabtree.

In other news from Friday's practice, coach Greg Schiano said Banks and receiver Mike Williams have strained hamstrings. Schiano said Williams could return as early as Saturday, but Banks likely will miss a few days.

Around the NFC South

July, 31, 2013
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Time for our morning run through the top headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Here’s some scary news for opposing defenses: Receiver Julio Jones said he has added nine pounds of muscle without losing any of his speed. Jones already was a tough matchup due to his combination of size and speed, and the added bulk could bring even more of a challenge for defensive backs.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers signed tight end Zack Pinalto. He appears to have a shot at a roster spot behind Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock.

Quarterback Cam Newton has taken more than his share of criticism from the national media. But here’s a story that may make you think a little differently of Newton.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that Charles Brown has been the steadiest of the three contenders for the left tackle job so far. Brown has been getting all of the first-team work so far and hasn’t faltered. If he continues playing the way he has been, Brown should be able to hold off Jason Smith and Terron Armstead for the starting job.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Although they’re competing against each other for a starting job, second-year pro Leonard Johnson has been mentoring rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks.

Around the NFC South

July, 26, 2013
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I’m spending another day with the Atlanta Falcons. But let’s take this time to run through some news and notes from around the rest of the division:

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Running back Jonathan Stewart will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from surgery on both ankles. Fantasy football players might want to go ahead and draft DeAngelo Williams, because it’s unclear how quickly the Panthers expect Stewart to be healthy. But my gut feeling is that Williams’ work load could be significant this season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Tight end Jimmy Graham is entering the last season of his rookie contract, and the Saints don’t have a lot of salary-cap room now or in the future. But general manager Mickey Loomis said the organization has talked about Graham’s situation. Loomis is very good at managing the cap, and there are plenty of ways he can create enough space to keep Graham. That’s something the Saints have to do, because Graham soon could become the league’s top tight end.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks said he’s trying to learn from Darrelle Revis. That’s a wise move, because Revis is the best cornerback in the league. Banks is still very much in the learning process, and he’s opening camp behind Leonard Johnson on the depth chart. If Banks is going to end up starting, he needs to grasp the defense quickly.

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