Can The Secondary Hold Up?

May 19th, 2018


It’s almost like looking at the horizon and seeing the storm clouds build. You see the storm coming but you hope the winds guide the front away from your crib.

Two years ago it was receivers. The Bucs were short on receivers and the decent ones they had, outside of Mike Evans, were coming off season-ending knee surgeries. Yet the Bucs decided to stand pat. Whoops.

That likely cost the team a playoff berth.

Last year it was running backs. The storm was easily seen. Yet the Bucs decided to stand pat and passed on countless good backs until the fifth round. Whoops.

As an assistant Bucs coach told Joe just after the 2017 season, the one-dimensional offense thanks to no running game killed the Bucs.

This offseason, the claps of thunder heard in the distance is the secondary that got roasted terribly last year unless a player’s name was “Brent Grimes.” This time, the Bucs did something, drafting three defensive backs.

But given how the current Bucs defensive coaches have yet to prove they can develop a rookie corner, was/is it wise for the Bucs to turn their backs on potential veteran corners, some still looking for work?

(While Joe harps on the lack of development of young corners, the same coaches seem to excel working with veteran corners.)

The question of what to make of the Bucs secondary is a question Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report essentially asks. Can the secondary hold up as currently constructed?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the worst pass defense in the league last season (260.6 passing yards per game allowed). For Tampa Bay to get into the NFC South hunt, its pass defense has to dramatically improve. The Buccaneers solved part of the problem by acquiring pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry. Last season’s defense produced a league-low 22 sacks, but that number should be on the rise in 2018.

The Buccaneers have to wonder whether they’ve done enough to fix the back end of the defense, though. Tampa Bay doesn’t have much eye-catching talent in its secondary. Former first-round selection Vernon Hargreaves has been a bit of a disappointment. While Brent Grimes is solid, he’s nearing the end of his career. Chris Conte and Keith Tandy are experienced safeties, but they’re nothing special.

The Buccaneers didn’t go after a premier defensive back in free agency, and they didn’t draft one in the first round. They did add corners M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis in Round 2, along with fourth-round safety Jordan Whitehead. These three rookies should be given chances to start in 2018, but Tampa Bay doesn’t know whether they’ll be able to immediately upgrade the secondary. The Buccaneers should start figuring that out in OTAs.

One would think the Bucs would still sign a veteran. Why Robert McClain was not brought back — he’s still on the street — is a mystery to Joe. No, he’s not Ronde Barber. But he wasn’t Ryan Smith either.

Two years ago, one would have thought the Bucs would sign a receiver. And last year one would have thought the Bucs would have been more proactive addressing running back.

But hey, if the Bucs can’t fix the defense because the rookie corners are getting fried left and right, it isn’t Joe’s rear end that’s going to be on a griddle come January.

38 Responses to “Can The Secondary Hold Up?”

  1. SB Says:

    A Great DL makes an average Secondary look Great. Let’s hope the mixture is good.

  2. BigHogHaynes Says:

    Ryan Smith “Break-Out Season”

  3. Jjones Says:

    I have faith in our players and most of our coaches but Brett Maxi and Hoke worry me. Please, prove me wrong and ease my anxiety but those two just seem out of place amongst the rest of the coaching staff, mentality wise. Maybe because they know the spotlight is directed their way more than others (yes I know they’re all held accountable regardless)but damn they really seem out of place imo.

  4. Joe Says:

    Please, prove me wrong

    That’s Joe’s position as well.

  5. RAS Says:

    I just hope Grimes can make it one more season. If he’s starts to decline we’re in trouble. Maybe the Buccaneers see this coming and that’s why Carlton Davis is getting a lot of rep at left corner.

  6. teacherman777 Says:


    Remember last year?

    I was screaming for McCourty!

    He signed with the Browns and was ranked as one of the top CBs in the NFL last year!

    If we had signed him,

    Grimes plus McCourty with youngins waiting in the wings.

    Keeping Doug Martin and not signing McCourrty doomed us!

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    Bucs have 4 young and talented CBs – yes I called Ryan Smith “talented” – deal with it. (Elliott makes 5 if you believe he has the talent to become serviceable)

    We only need 2 of them to step up and play well as long as Brent is on the field.

    Hargreaves has already shown that at worst he can handle the slot/nickle spot well enough to be counted on.(Coach K said so recently)

    So we just need 1 of 3 players (R. Smith, Stewart, Davis) to step up and play well enough to truly earn that outside Rt CB spot.

    Its a good bet IMO that one if not 2 of those 3 players will prove them self worthy of being counted on to man that outside corner spot. And that’s if they can beat out Hargreaves who will get every opportunity to be the starting outside CB opposite Grimes in base defense.

    We may not have seen Davis or Stewart play much yet – but I can say with some level of confidence that the Bucs are going to roll with what they have – and will be relatively OK in doing so.

    Bringing in a marginal vet like McClain only takes reps away from the young guys – every one of whom needs reps, reps and more reps to truly develop into competent and confident NFL CBs.

    You gotta let go of this unhealthy FEAR that young Buccaneer DBs cannot be developed Joe(L). Didn’t anyone ever explain to you about fear? That its nothing but

    That’s exactly what Joe is clinging to with this silly and too often parroted proclamation that Bucs coaches can’t develop a young DB.

    If you claim you didn’t see Justin Evans and Ryan Smith improve with playing time over the course of last year – then that’s just playing the deaf/dumb/blind monkey bit. Ryan Smith’s coach said he improved substantially last year if you missed it somehow the other day which I know you didn’t…

  8. adam from ny Says:

    smith should try to grow a beard like fitzie…i bet he can’t do it…
    he’s gonna need that santa beard to hide that grill if this defense is in shambles come christmas…and he will also need a sleigh to slide on out of town…

    hopefully this D kicks some A

  9. Defense Rules Says:

    Awesome article Joe & love Kristopher Knox’s assessment of the Bucs’ secondary. IMO he’s spot on, as is Pickgrin with his assessment. We’ve got a number of very good prospects with excellent potential, but that’s all it is at this point in the season: POTENTIAL. I fully expect Ryan Smith or Carlton Davis to earn a starting outside CB spot opposite Brent Grimes (but I’ve been disappointed by the Bucs before). And as we all know & have seen FAR TOO OFTEN, injuries happen. I’m all in favor of bringing back Robert McClain on a 1-yr contract, not so much because he’s great, but because he knows the system & can ‘come off the bench’ a lot easier than any rookie can. Plus he’s a good influence on these youngsters.

  10. LUVMYBUCS Says:

    Potential Depth Chart
    RCB Ryan Smith | Carlton Davis
    LCB Brent Grimes | Vernon Hargreaves
    SCB M.J. Stewart | Javien Elliott

    Right Corner Back
    • #29 Ryan Smith (24) 6-0 190 North Carolina Central
    • # 6 Carlton Davis (21) 6-1 206 Auburn

    Left Corner Back
    • #24 Brent Grimes (34) 5-10 185 Shippensburg
    • #28 Vernon Hargreaves (22) 5-10 205 Florida

    Slot Corner Back
    • #6 M.J. Stewart (22) 5-11 200 North Carolina
    • #35 Javien Elliott (24) 5-11 176 Florida State

    Practice Squad/Reserves
    • #27 David Rivers (23) 6-0 185 Youngstown State
    • #30 Maurice Fleming (24) 5-11 202 West Virginia
    • #8 Mark Myers (22) 5-10 185

  11. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    I’m 100 % with Pickgrin…..and drafting 2 CBs just about killed any chance of a vet being brought in. We have 7 CBs on the roster now including those who were on the roster last year…my guess is that they will wait to see what they have before any moves are made.

  12. teacherman777 Says:


    I love you dude!!


    Go Bucs!!

  13. Alanbucsfan Says:

    I guess Bleacher Report never heard of Justin Evans…
    The secondary will be much improved with the draft picks- and the coaching will probably improve too because talent tends to make coaches look good.A
    If Hargreaves remains healthy- he will improve, especially with a DL that’s no longer swiss cheese.
    Licht did a good job in the draft
    Joe just loves free agents, but championship teams are built mainly through the draft

  14. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Looks like Josh Robinson or Elliott are on the bubble.

  15. John meeks Says:

    I would like to see a veteran added (Robert knows the system) cause it does take a rookie a while to get use to playing in the NFL and starting a rookie scares me!I love the Davis pick more veteran would ease my concern alot!

  16. OneBuc55 Says:

    This is easily the most talent weve had on defense since the Dungy/Gruden era…

    We definitely upgraded our DLine from the coach down to the personnel…If these guys play up to their potential it’ll improve our secondary play by leaps and bounds…There are no more excuses for Smitty; this defense has play makers at every level…Now it’s up to Smith and the rest of the defensive coaching staff to put these guys in position to succeed..

    I’m really excited about this team as a whole…Since Jason Licht arrived Imo he’s done a great job of stockpiling young talent via the draft…Yes he’s struggled in FA; but from a draft standpoint, I like what he’s done…Our offense is loaded with playmakers and now our defense is loaded with playmakers…I honestly believe that we have the most talented team in our division; and the scary thing is, the youth we have on this team top to bottom…Shame on this coaching staff if they can’t get this team in the playoffs…

  17. Bob in Valrico Says:

    If I am Jason Licht , I am saying to MacClain. We have a logjam at corner right now and we have to see how things play out. An injury to Grimes could change things where a veteran would be necessary.

  18. Stanglassman Says:

    This is the 3rd national piece I’ve seen with no mention of Justin Evans. They seem to think Conte and Tandy are going to be are starting safeties. Evans is a raising star and it’s definitely gone unnoticed nationally.

  19. BucEmUp Says:

    Lacking talent, a good coach can have mediocre results. A bad coach will just be last.

    Fire Mike Smith

  20. I'm a Tandyman Bucs Fan Says:

    Joe you say Conte and Tandy are nothing special? You better hope one of them is special cause I guarantee you Smith is going to start Mam Maw non tackling Evans!!!!

  21. Ndog Says:

    For all Jameis haters please read the attached link, hopefully this will wake you up to the truth of OUR team.

  22. Destinjohnny Says:

    To much youth at db
    We still don’t have a qualtiy starting saftey

  23. Defense Rules Says:

    Bob in Valrico … Have a hunch that Jason Licht is hoping, hoping, hoping that McClain (and possibly a couple of other vet CBs) don’t get signed until this coaching staff gets a chance to see what this current crop of young CBs can deliver. My gut feel right now is that our Secondary will look like the following when season starts:

    Safeties: Evans, Conte, Tandy, Whitehead. Igwebulke may sneak in there, but he’s got the longest climb of the 4 mentioned (if not, he’ll likely make the PS IMO).

    Corners: Grimes, VHIII, R. Smith, Davis, Stewart, veteran CB (McClain would be the front-runner there IMO). A couple from the Elliott, Rivers, Fleming, Myers group may make the PS. Robinson will only stick IMO if no one rises up during TC to take his leadership role on STs.

    No matter how you cut it, the Secondary is now the weak link on defense. Smitty & company have their work cut out for them.

  24. AlabamaBucsFan Says:


    Potential Depth Chart
    Vernon Hargreaves | Carlton Davis
    LCB Brent Grimes | Ryan Smith
    SCB M.J. Stewart | Javien Elliott

    I made a change on your potential depth chart as Coach Koetter already said Hargreaves would start on the outside and move to the inside when a slot receiver is lined up on the opposing side. Davis will then be moved to the outside along with Grimes.

    I thing next year you’ll see Hargreaves and Davis on the outside with Stewart playing the slot. Ryan Smith and Elliot will be serviceable backups.

  25. LUVMYBUCS Says:


    Much Luv My Brotha.
    Just keepin’ it simple – U know how we do.

  26. LUVMYBUCS Says:


    IMO Hargreaves has an uphill battle.
    Typically once a DB loses his confidence – its a wrap.

    But I can respect where U coming from.

    So lets hope for the best

    Go Bucs!

  27. BigMacAttack Says:

    I may be in the minority but I really like the CBs Licht drafted. I think Hargreaves will bounce back stronger than ever. He got hurt very early last season and that caused big problems for him. The kid can play and this will be a top 10 defense imo. The Saints will be cocky but this defense is going to absolutely hammer them. Brees May consider retirement after the beat down they’re going to receive. It’s going to be ugly. Mike Smith is a good coach and he will redeem himself and his players.

  28. Rrsrq Says:

    I think Buckner will bring some attitude to the defensive side of the ball, while Mike Smith is up in the press box, I can see Duffner and Buckner on the sideline all in on the defense, doing big things and accountability because when you get that look from either of them after not getting the job done. Remember Buck said, if the offense completes a long pass, that’s on the d-line.
    Not only that, Jameis playing better and not turning the ball over giving teams short fields, a Peyton Barber run that breaks tackles or Rojo with a long run or receivers catching and blocking, that fires the defense up. Go Bucs.

  29. Mike Johnson Says:

    NO EXCUSES. Win or pack your bags. That goes for players and it certainly goes for our DC..Pressbox Smitty!!

  30. Debilah Says:

    Brent is in great shape, I (mom) walk up a hill and he runs, he works out everyday and I still don’t know where he gets the energy from. When he said he was thinking about retiring, I told him he wasn’t ready. He is my entertainment.

  31. unbelievable Says:

    Spot on pickgrin and SB.

    The author also seems to have forgotten about Justin Evans, who I’m orettty sure will be 1 of our 2 starting safeties…

  32. SOEbuc Says:

    Josh Robinson was awesome on special teams last year. Taking him over Elliot all day especially since we’ve got more depth.

  33. Joe Says:

    You gotta let go of this unhealthy FEAR that young Buccaneer DBs cannot be developed


    Fear is an emotion if not irrational reaction to something that doesn’t exist.

    Joe hasn’t seen any development of a rookie corner the past two years.

  34. BucHead5588 Says:

    BigHog I’m with you I think Ryan Smith will breakout this year also I think VH3 will redeem his 11th overall pick status our DLine should be so much better an actually get some pressure An sacks this year An not have our Corners having to cover for a clean 4-5 seconds of course our Corners looked terrible I mean the games we actually got some pressure you could see how they looked a lot better but they just couldn’t get enough constant pressure but this year will be different I’m really rooting for VH3 I like him An just think his confidence was rattled An he will be good this year I mean we really need him An Ryan smith to come on even if both of the rookies turn out to be good next year grimes prolly won’t be here An we will need Stewart Davis VH3 and Smith to be good hoping Whitehead can takeover for Conte even tho I’m not as down on him as others are I would rather have him be our backup An next year we will need to start drafting some DEs I’m hoping Curry An JPP can play there entire contracts out with us that would mean there still playing at a high level if they do but would be smart to start bringing in some more young DEs to go with Spence to let them learn behind some proven Vets An not have to be counted on to produce as a rookie

  35. Not there yet Says:

    Rookies corners start every year and hold up well….. Stop complaining because all off-season you begged them to get a corner high in the draft and they got two….. Ok whether a rookie could come in and contribute is the same question that should have been asked before the draft now you’re creating a new narrative

    Bucs did what you asked and addressed the position STFU and wait to find out.

    Personally we’ve seen vh3 a rookie start and have an ok season, we’ve seen Ryan Smith full first season at corner getting roasted. So I think the guys that came in can have better rookie seasons than them? Hell yeah I do. Bucs have also prepared for an injurt to Grimes

    Hoping vh3 starts on the outside because at year 3 he should be better than Robert McClain and gives rookies time to develop something good corners do with playing time despite who their position coach is

  36. Guzzie Says:

    What’s stopping Ryan Smith from taking a leap, he was basically a rookie last and got significant playing, unlike Hargreaves, Smith has the physical tools to be an outside corner 6′ 190 4.41 speed, now that he isn’t playing 7 on 7 football, I wouldn’t be surprised if he started, and VH3 works slot, allowing the rookies to develop properly, next year it’ll be Smith and Davis outside, with VH3 and MJS manning slot and backup positions, not bad

  37. Jjones Says:

    BucHead is definitely a dude because he never gets a period.

  38. BoJim Says:

    With all the additions to the front line maybe they’re hoping the ball won’t get to the secondary?