Matchup players like Reggie Bush and Tony Gonzalez present defenses with problems. Do they counter those player with extra defensive backs, or do they stay in their base personnel designed to stop the run? These players can function well in both the running game and the passing game, so whatever defenses do, they're damned. If a defense counters Reggie Bush with a cornerback, he'll take the ball and run past that cornerback. If instead the defense counters Reggie Bush with a linebacker, he'll split out wide and the offense will exploit the lack of a pass defense.
This presents a no-win scenario for the defense, and it's been a big part of most of the recent explosive offenses. The Patriots built their entire offense around this principle in 2010, while the Saints have created one of the best offenses in the league these past seasons exploiting defenses with Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Jeremy Shockey.
The Bucs themselves try to create these problems for defenses with Kellen Winslow and, presumably, Luke Stocker, but being in a division with the Saints forces the Bucs to figure out a way to beat that offense. They'e succeeded at times, and at other times they've been obliterated. But the Bucs may try something relatively new the coming year: the Big Nickel defense. In steps Ahmad Black.
Most people know what a Nickel defense is. It's when the defense takes a linebacker or defensive linemen off the field, and replaces them with a cornerback to defend against a pass-heavy personnel group. The Bucs ran this frequently, and they took off a defensive lineman to do so, leaving Quincy Black or Dekoda Watson on the field as a pass rusher and leading to the much-maligned 3-man rushes. But the Big Nickel functions differently: instead of putting an extra cornerback on the field, the defense puts an extra safety on the field. It's still a nickel defense, but this time it's a big nickel defense.
This is where Ahmad Black comes in. Black isn't fast enough to be a deep safety and he's not big enough to be an in-the-box strong safety, but he's a very instinctive player. I've said before that Ahmad Black could work as a slot corner because of his instincts and short-area skills, but his best fit may be as a slot safety. The difference is a little semantic, but Black could be the perfect counter to matchup problems like Gonzalez and Bush.
Black has the experience and skills to cover a player like Bush or Gonzalez man-to-man. While he lacks the speed and range to be a deep-half safety, he should have no trouble working on those hybrid players in man or zone coverage. In addition, while he lacks size, he does have the ability to sift through traffic and make a good tackle, much like Cody Grimm.
Black isn't the only player fit for that role, though. Larry Asante could step in and was indeed used that way a little toward the end of last year. In addition if Cody Grimm loses his job as starting free safety to Tanard Jackson, expect him to step in and take up the Big Nickel role. Grimm was used in a very similar role at Virginia Tech as a so-called whip linebacker or 'Deathbacker' as Viriginia Tech fans referred to Grimm. He was a linebacker/safety hybrid who didn't come off the field, and the Big Nickel role would be very similar.
With all the young and versatile players the Bucs have at safety, expect them to run the Big Nickel defense much more often next season. And don't be surprised if that's where you see Ahmad Black on the field.