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The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fielded a good pass defense, Raheem Morris was still a key member of the defensive staff. From then until now, the Buccaneers have spent high picks on secondary players and given out some big contracts to veterans, hoping to re-create the 2007 pass defense that led the Bucs to their last playoff appearance.
Although a big part of the problem with repeating the success of the 2007 pass defense has been the pass rush—last year (2013) was the first season since 2007 in which the Buccaneers topped 30 sacks—another problem has been the lack of depth in the secondary. For years, the Buccaneers have pinned their hopes on the potential of players with behavioral issues, like Aqib Talib and Tanard Jackson and depended on great performances from veterans like Eric Wright and Darrel Revis , but the results have been dismal. Just a year ago, the Buccaneers drafted Johnthan Banks, traded for Revis and signed Dashon Goldson to improve a secondary that fell just a handful of yards short from allowing the most yards through the air than any team in NFL history. The two Pro Bowl defensive backs and Jim Thorpe award winning cornerback improved the Buccaneers pass defense to 17th in the league—still in the bottom half of the league, statistically.
In Mark Dominik’s tenure as general manager, roster depth was a constant weakness. With the new regime taking over, depth has become a strength at certain positions. Transactions to bring in quality veterans, along with the improvement of some lesser known, younger players, has put the Bucs’ fans in an unfamiliar position: a position in which they’re genuinely unsure about certain players being retained and/or released (at certain positions) because of the talent levelx of even third-stringers. The two oft-discussed position battles for Tampa Bay are at left defensive end and running back; however, another battle is happening at cornerback and at the center of it is second-year man Rashaan Melvin, and his continued development could make him eligible for major playing time in 2014.
Age of the Tall Cornerback
The recent success of big wide receivers has forced teams to counter with tall, physical defensive backs. The success of players like Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman has given more reason for teams to seek out size in their cornerbacks. According to this MMQB article, the average NFL defensive back stands 5’11", with the average receiver going 6’1". Lovie Smith has previously spoken about how bigger receivers are making tall cornerbacks into more of a necessity. At 6’2" with a 38-inch vertical, Melvin fits the mold.
Back in his days at Northern Illinois Univeristy, Melvin was viewed as a shutdown cornerback. Quarterbacks regularly avoided his side of the field and when they did decide to test him, they were often unsuccessful; hence, "Melvin’s Island" was born. Although he only recorded 1 interception in his senior year, Melvin set a NIU single-season record with 17 pass breakups to go along with 55 tackles. His best statistical year came in 2011, when he recorded 78 tackles, 3 interceptions and 9 pass deflections.
Several scouting reports on Melvin during his final year at Northern Illinois state that he is a physical cornerback who excels in zone coverage and has the ability stay in a receiver’s hip pocket in coverage. These are great attributes for a Tampa-2 corner and, with his size, Melvin will also be able to jam most receivers at the line of scrimmage, which has been practiced regularly in Lovie Smith’s practices this offseason.
In this scouting report on Bleeding Green Nation, Melvin is attributed with stickiness and physicality, with the ability to stay in a receiver’s hip pocket. Although he’s had an up and down performance in minicamps this offseason, the evidence of Melvin’s stickiness is there. On the second day of minicamp, Melvin turned a drop by Vincent Jackson into an interception and also ripped the ball out of speedster Chris Owusu’s hands for another pick. Although the receiver did get his hands on the ball in both instances, the fact that Melvin was in good enough position to make plays is a good sign.
The same scouting report complimented Melvin’s tackling ability with the following statements:
· Tough, sometimes violent hitter who's not reckless
· Solid tackler who exhibits proper form and is able to wrestle ball carrier down individually
· Playmaker mentality as tackler/hitter: sets under control, squares, leans forward and explodes into ball carrier, targeting the football with helmet
Anyone familiar with the concept of Cover 2 knows just how important the defensive backs’ tackling prowess is in the scheme. Cornerbacks in this scheme are very important in the run and pass game.. Missed tackles and bad angles by cornerbacks can lead to big plays for the opposing offenses, so this scouting report’s praise of Melvin’s ability and willingness to tackle is encouraging for his development as a Cover 2 cornerback, especially while learning from Smith, Leslie Frazier and Gill Byrd.
Can He Crack the Roster?
Melvin was a standout in camps as a rookie before injuries derailed his season and he was finally placed on injured reserve in October. This year, Melvin has taken advantage of his time with the first-team offense as injuries sidelined Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks. Battling players like Michael Jenkins, Danny Gorrer and Leonard Johnson for a spot on the roster. If the second-year man can stay healthy this offseason and continue his strong defensive play, he could make beat out Johnson or Gorrer for a roster spot. The second-year Husky also needs to showcase the ability to contribute on special teams, which will greatly help his odds of cracking the roster as a fourth or fifth cornerback, where he can attempt to climb up the depth chart.