Ah, the bye week. A brief reprieve from the punishment of an arduous NFL season. A time to rest, nurse injuries and do a little extra game-planning for the next opponent.
Unless you’re in the Buccaneer front office.
Since losing to New England in London, the Bucs have made 11 roster moves. Only the Seahawks have made more in that span. Other than the kicking carousel continuing to spin with the signing of Connor Barth to replace Shane Andrus, another move merits special attention: The signing of rookie cornerback Mike Mickens form the Cowboys practice squad.
The secondary has been an area of particular disgust through seven games, susceptible to giving up big plays in coordinator Jim Bates’s new scheme. While the return of Tanard Jackson and the improved play of Aqib Talib have brought some stability, questions still surround the future of the aging Ronde Barber.
The 6-foot, 189-pound Mickens was drafted in the seventh round the the 2009 draft out of the University of Cincinnati by the Cowboys. A school-record 14 interceptions earned him first-round consideration before a knee injury cut his senior season short. He was cut by the Cowboys and signed to the practice squad on a 4-year, $1.805 million contract with a $55,000 signing bonus.
Early Tuesday morning, he signed an undisclosed contract with the Bucs.
Mickens was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back in college football) last year with four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. The previous year he was voted first-team All-American, returning two of his six picks for scores.
For the Bucs, Mickens is low risk, high reward. If Mickens shows flashes of his Cincinnati days in Tampa Bay, it could allow the front office to direct more attention to other draft and free agent needs, such as defensive line and wide receiver.
Bates’s defense is wildly different from Monte Kiffin’s famed Tampa Two. It’s based on man coverage rather than zone and requires speed and athleticism from its secondary to make plays rather than the system to put them in good position.
Bates has been under fire recently for implementing a defense which he does not have the personnel to execute. Barber is not a shut-down corner, which is why he thrived in the Tampa Two. With just four pass defenses and 23 tackles, he is far behind his usual pace through seven games. The 6’1, 205-pound Talib is a big, physical defender with the speed to keep up with most top receivers. Through seven games, he is just two tackles and two pass defenses away from equaling his 15-game output a year ago. Only three players have more interceptions than Talib’s four, which matches his 2008 total.
Mickens has the size, speed and talent to thrive in Bates’s system as Talib has. The question remains whether or not his speed and athleticism will translate from his college days to the NFL, where great cornerbacks are hard to come by.