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How important is the nickel back to the Tampa Two? Well, you could argue that in the 4-3 setting, the nickel corner isn't important at all, because they're sitting on the bench. But when the opposing team rolls out with 3 wide or in a passing situation, the 3rd cornerback, often called the nickel corner, trots out onto the field and lines up against the slot receiver. That is, unless Ronde Barber happens to be on the field. Barber has made a living blitzing out of the slot, using his uncanny knack for jumping the snap and having a telepathic ability (ask Donovan McNabb) to know where the play is going. Barber, as we all know, is the only corner with 20 sacks and 20 picks in a career. He's been able to rack up most of those sacks on nickel blitzes which Monte Kiffin would unleash quite frequently.
So Barber's slide into the slot means we place pretty high importance on the third corner. Who will that be this year? It's up for grabs, but don't count out Myron Lewis, our 3rd round pick from Vanderbilt.
Myron Lewis definitely has the size to be a force. In a game where wide receivers seem to stand at least 6'2 with defensive backs often going under 6 feet, Myron has a 6'2 frame to hold his 200 pound weight which should be a nice asset as he battles some bigger receivers. But his size is only an asset is he manages to move well too, which Head Coach Raheem Morris seems to think Lewis does.
"He's got Aqib like movement. He has Aqib like ball skills," said Morris. "He just has to get Aqib like confidence and then we will have a big-time player."
Now, lets realize that we don't even know what type of player Aqib Talib is yet, though he is headed in a very promising direction. You chalk this up to coach speak, but with a third round pick knowing that Barber has limited tread left on his tires, you start to buy into what Morris is saying. Particularly when you consider that defensive backs are his specialty.
Lewis will be battling E.J. Biggers, Elbert Mack, and Derrick Roberson for the nickel job it seems. Biggers remains a bit of a mystery after missing 2009 with an injury. Mack showed some promise but had too many lapses last year (as did most of the defense). I remain hopeful for Mack as he put himself in excellent position, particularly on deep plays but just seemed to not have the timing down. Roberson saw most of his action against Atlanta, particularly on the Falcons game winning drive. He too showed some hope that he might end up more force than failure.
So while the hype rides with Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Mike Williams, don't sleep on Lewis. He has the potential to play a big part in 2010 and with Barber riding into the sunset at some point, Lewis may be the guy who takes #20's spot.