TAMPA, Fla. — The secondary was good, but it could be better.
Last season, there were some decent developments among the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ safeties and cornerbacks. Certainly, the group was an improvement over the one that allowed a league-worst 297 yards passing per game in 2012, and it’s not difficult to find the reasons why.
The additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson meant instant credibility. Still, issues hampered the big-money pair at various times. Revis had lingering effects in his recovery from the ACL tear in his left knee, and Goldson experienced multiple preventable fines because of his hard-hitting style.
With Revis and Goldson sure to play large roles next season, there’s room for the secondary to improve. The Bucs finished 17th against the pass by allowing 238 yards per game, and they looked vulnerable late in the season, especially when the New Orleans Saints ripped them for 370 yards passing in the season finale at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Expect the Bucs’ secondary to have a different feel with Lovie Smith’s preference for Tampa 2 zone coverage. Still, with some concern present about how the staff will use a man-first talent like Revis, cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd appears confident schemes will be devised that maximize players’ strengths.
"The defense we run is known as Tampa 2, but we do run multiple defenses, and players have to have multiple skills to function in our defense," Byrd said. "And Darrelle Revis has those skills to do the things that need to be done."
Added defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier: "Darrelle Revis is a great player in our league — a great corner and has been for a number of years now. … There is always room in any system for great players. We’re going to do all we can to maximize his talents and utilize his gifts."
Here’s a closer look at the Bucs’ secondary situation:
CB Darrelle Revis — He was the jewel of the Bucs’ offseason additions last year, signed to a pay-as-you-play six-year, $96 million deal last April after a trade with the New York Jets. It wasn’t a surprise that his left knee became an issue early as he continued recovery from a torn ACL. Tampa Bay played more zone coverage with him than expected in the season’s first half, but overall, he was effective in helping a revamped pass defense. He had 50 tackles and two interceptions before being named to his fifth Pro Bowl.
CB Johnthan Banks — The Bucs’ second-round draft pick received a trial by fire in his rookie year. Given Revis’ place on the opposite side, he became a popular target for offenses. He had 55 tackles and three interceptions, but he performed like a first-year player at times throughout the season. Though he never missed any games, he was one of three players — along with guard Carl Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes — to become involved in Tampa Bay’s MRSA mess.
S Dashon Goldson — He was signed to a five-year, $41.25 million contract in free agency, after spending the first six seasons of his career with the San Francisco 49ers. However, he’ll remember last season for how much money was lost. He was fined $190,000 for various illegal hits, on top of the $264,705 in squandered wages suffered after being suspended for the Bucs’ victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 12. To little surprise, he was vocal about his frustration with officiating, and he hinted that the league targeted him because of his past problems. He finished with 71 tackles and one interception.
S Mark Barron — Statistically, he posted a slight improvement over his rookie season. The second-year Alabama product had 88 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. He has yet to become the difference-maker he has the potential to be, though. At 24 years old, he has time. But next season could be a revealing year for him.
CB Danny Gorrer — He became a consistent reserve presence in the season’s second half, when he played seven of nine games from Weeks 9 through 17. He had 10 tackles and one forced fumble, the tackle total one short of his career high set with the Bucs in six games in 2012.
CB Leonard Johnson — He saw plenty of action again, playing in all 16 games for the second consecutive year. The Iowa State product had a career-high eight starts with 62 tackles, another career high, and one interception.
CB Deveron Carr — He was signed as an undrafted free agent last April and waived when the team reached the 53-man limit after the preseason. Eventually, the Arizona State product was re-signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad and promoted to a roster spot in September. He played in nine games but finished with no stats.
S Kelcie McCray — He was a steady backup for the Bucs, appearing in 11 games after he was claimed off waivers following Ahmad Black’s release last October. The Arkansas State product also appeared in four games for the Miami Dolphins before joining Tampa Bay.
S Keith Tandy — He appeared in all 16 games, starting in five, in what was the most action of his career. The second-year West Virginia product had 40 tackles and three interceptions, after only playing in nine games as a rookie.
POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS
With Revis, Banks, Goldson and Barron returning, the Bucs appear to have their secondary structure in place. Adding depth wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps a reunion between Smith and cornerback Charles Tillman is possible. (It would make a lot of sense.) But other than Tillman, who could provide Tampa Bay with a strong return threat at age 33, it’s hard to see the Bucs devoting major money to this area. Look for the key faces of Tampa Bay’s secondary to appear much they did in 2013.
BEST DRAFT OPTIONS
Smith’s regime wants to build through the draft, so this could be an interesting opportunity to add depth with young talent. Players like Missouri cornerback E.J. Gaines, Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins and LSU safety Craig Loston could be worth glances in the middle rounds. Again, it’s hard to see Tampa Bay going this route early, though.
The Bucs’ secondary was improved from the awful group in 2012 that cost them a chance to reach the playoffs. Still, there’s room for Revis and Goldson, in particular, to reach another level and live up to their big-time paychecks. It will be interesting to see how Smith’s staff uses Revis, who presumably will be healthier than he was in 2013. Smith’s success in Chicago showed he’s smart, and wise coaches strategize around their players’ strengths. (This was a shortcoming of Greg Schiano’s regime.) Meanwhile, Goldson must be more cautious and cut down on the silly, unnecessary fines. The "No Fly Zone" secondary never lived up to its preseason hype, but there’s a chance for redemption next season.