Bruce Arians Talks Nickel Corner Battle

August 2nd, 2019

M.J. Stewart

Robert McLain is out of football. So is “Hey” Jude Adjei-Barimah. Javien Elliott joined Gerald McCoy on the Panthers. And Leonard Johnson is on the Cardinals.

Yes, there’s a nickel cornerback job up for grabs in Tampa.


What makes this year’s nickel gig extra important is the fact Bucco Bruce Arians makes the nickel cornerback the team’s key blitzer, so said safeties coach Nick Rapone.

“In our system, the No. 1 person that blitzes is the nickel,” Rapone said.

On May 1, the staff hoped M.J. Stewart could fill that role.

“He is a physical player. He was a rookie. There is a learning curve. Our nickels have to blitz. Our nickels have to play man-to-man,” Rapone said of Stewart. “He has the innate skills to play man to man; he’s physical enough to blitz. So we’re basing it on what he can do based on what we saw.”

Fast-forward to Aug 1, and Arians says Stewart is in a horse race with rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting for that critical, blitz-happy nickel role.

“Sean is in there too,” Arians said of his competition with Stewart. “They’re rotating. It’ll be a good battle.”

The other day, Stewart ran down Ronald Jones from behind on a long run. Joe wasn’t sure whether that means RoJo is slower than we think, or that perhaps Stewart is finally healthy and is flashing speed that didn’t show up last season.

Regardless, Joe’s not sure Stewart has the wheels to be a good blitzer. Murphy-Bunting should win this nickel gig. But that is one tough job for a rookie to play the middle of the field and have pass rushing responsibilities fresh out of Central Michigan University.

Joe thinks of the accomplished offensive coordinators the Bucs will face in their first four games, and Joe gets awfully nervous. All but one of them has called plays in a Super Bowl.

This Bucs secondary is going to be very young and very vulnerable to a savvy offensive coordinator. But they’ll also be very lively, fast and hungry, a combination that often generates big defensive plays.

19 Responses to “Bruce Arians Talks Nickel Corner Battle”

  1. Defense Rules Says:

    Still looking for VHIII’s name in the mix. Didn’t see it. Figured SMB would have an excellent chance to become a starting outside corner because of his size, speed & skillset. Maybe not. So Joe, what position HAS VHIII primarily been playing in training camp?

  2. Bob in Valrico Says:

    One thing I’ll say for our rookie defensive players,they don’t seem to be scared of competition.

  3. AlabamaBucsFan Says:

    Stewart was a rookie last season trying to learn in an inept, convoluted and dreadful defensive scheme. He was thinking too much and did not have the confidence to play like he did in college.

    Like most rookies, the second year, they play faster. If he does not think too much about the small details and let his natural instinct take over, he’ll play much faster this year.

  4. EvolvingBucsFan Says:

    1st preseason game in one week, can’t wait.

  5. Bird Says:

    Let’s test VHIII and SMB on the inside and outside and play the best guy at the best position. Looks like Carlton Davis has one side locked up. We will find out these next few weeks in real preseason games against real players (other then same Bucs vs Bucs in same practices over and over again )

  6. Bird Says:

    “Can’t wait”

  7. Brandon Says:

    Even the slowest CBs are usually as fast as most of the fast blitzing LBs and pass rushing DEs. Barber was no blazer but there was no better blitzer in Bucs history. And for what it’s worth, Barber was 4.63 and Stewart was 4.54 at Combine testing.

  8. diggler Says:

    If Blunt is being considered for Nickle then that means VH3 is having a good camp. This is great news.

  9. 813bucboi Says:


    your looking in the wrong place…..

    VHG has been primarily on the outside…..and he’s been balling in his natural position, outside CB….he’s played some nickle(the pic vs oj) but his skill set is a perfect match for the outside…..

    VHG is finally getting coached up by competent coaches and he’ll succeed on the outside…..dean will be depth for the outside with SMB playing both outside and nickle…..

    GO BUCS!!!!

  10. 813bucboi Says:

    diggler Says:
    August 2nd, 2019 at 8:52 am
    If Blunt is being considered for Nickle then that means VH3 is having a good camp. This is great news.


    that also means the problem has been coaching and scheme NOT talent and players….

    GO BUCS!!!!

  11. Neal Says:

    “Still looking for VHIII’s name in the mix” you must not be looking very hard. BA talked about him quite a bit in his presser the other day. He is lined up outside mostly from what i’m seeing.

  12. Ghost of Darrell Henderson Says:

    if SMLB can’t compete for outside corner and can’t beat out MJ Stewart for nickle, that means he’s going to be competing for the practice squad. Bust!

    I believe Treyvon Mullen will lock down a starting gig at CB with the Raiders and will be playing at a Pro Bowl level for the next decade. Although he was the MVP of the National Champion Clemson Tigers, he was available to the Bucs in the 2nd round.

  13. DT25 Says:

    On that long run from RoJo, Stewart was able to begin his pursuit at an angle, making chasing him down easier. Have now seen it mentioned multiple times that RoJo should easily outrun him on that play but that completely ignores the initial angle of pursuit. Even with that angle, RoJo almost beat Stewart to his spot. I’m still hopeful Stewart can at least be solid depth, but it appears he still is on track to be the starting nickel. That can obviously change though the further we get into camp. We’ll see how it shakes out by around week 3 of the preseason.

  14. DT25 Says:

    Also for those asking about Hargreaves, I’ve seen reports that not only has he had a good camp, he’s easily been the best CB in camp…looks like he’s reborn in Bowles defense.

  15. WhatTheBuc Says:

    Once again MJ tested faster than Ronde Barber. Barber is the only corner with 20+ sacks to my knowledge.

  16. jjbucfan Says:

    Such short memories and just a bunch of instigators. If I recall, in training camp, MJ was our best 1-on-1 cover guy until pre-season games started. Then anybody remember what happened? Mike Smith is what happened. You can’t take a press corner and ask him to sit down in a zone and expect him to be successful. The same way you you wouldn’t put Grimes in press against Julio. Smith was so bad that even his guy Grimes quit on him. Seriously watch a game this season then judge. If you’re not a Bucs fan, go away. Go on tour own teams website and post a bunch of uneducated sh*t instead of doing it on this one.

  17. jjbucfan Says:

    DT- RoJo was an outright track star so he should outrun those angles. The fact he “almost” got by but didn’t is encouraging to me. Also I think M.J. had a foot injury last year if I recall. Who knows when that first surfaced, players try to play through those injuries, especially as a rookie trying to earn his stripes, just sayin’

  18. JimmyJack Says:

    @Ghost….Well, you went and done it man. Congrats.

    You are ‘that guy’. I knew we would get one this year……Seen it coming a mile away with the kneejerkers reactions to VitaV being injured last year. I just knew that we would get somebody on here calling one of our rookies a bust before they even played a August preseason game……and you are ‘that guy’. You are a special type of fan my friend. And our fanbase needs all types so well done.

    And I’ll give you a pat on the back in advance for being able to rub your little love affair over Henderson in our faces. Lucky for you he has joined a dominant rushing team so he should have an easy path to a nice rookie year………But just know that we all know if your precicous Henderson had signed with a trash run blocking team like Arizona or Detroit you wouldn’t be saying a peep about Henderson…..My best guess is you would have picked some other low hanging fruit to obsess on.

  19. Pryda...Sec147 Says:

    this defense has been so putrid we could barely ever start the game with the lead nor could we protect a lead. Give Jameis a chance, hold opposing offenses to 3 instead of an automatic TD and for the love of all that is good make some damn field goals!