The day has been filled with Kellen Winslow news, but there are other Buccaneers players as well. One of those players is second-year safety Ahmad Black, who apparently has an outside chance to earn some playing time at free safety. That, at least, is what the guys over at Pro Football Weekly are hearing from 'team observers', presumably reporters. The vague phrasing doesn't say much more than that Black could compete for playing time, but it's still an interesting issue to examine.
Black was a fifth-round pick last season, but he started the season on the practice squad after missing almost all of preseason with a high-ankle sprain. He earned some playing time at safety last season, as both Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones were repeatedly benched for some atrocious play. Black didn't exactly make an impact then, but I did see him show up around the ball a few times.
It would be a real shock if Black earned significant playing time at free safety this season, though. The Bucs have pegged Ronde Barber as the starter at free safety and backup Cody Grimm has proven to be a capable starter as well, assuming he comes back from his knee injury successfully. Grimm has been participating in practice, but it can take players a while before they've regained confidence in their knee after an injury.
There are a few reasons why Black could earn playing time, though. Ahmad Black does have the ability to read and react quickly to be a successful safety, but he lacks both speed and size. Being slow and small is not a good combination anywhere on the football field, but the lack of speed is especially problematic at free safety. Still, he might be able to make up for it partially through his quick reactions.
Personally, though, I'd be very surprised to see him earn playing time at free safety in anything other than two-deep looks. Still, I can see him earning playing time in another role: slot corner/safety. Black is small and undersized, but has great short-area quickness, knows how to move through traffic and has a knack for finding the football. That's a good combination for someone playing as a slot defender in a role similar to what Ronde Barber has done throughout his career in nickel sets.
Can Black beat out both Grimm and Barber at free safety, though? I sincerely doubt it.