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Season in Review: Safeties

The Bucs only acquired one 'big'(or should I say 'not tiny'?)-name free agent last year: S Sean Jones. The safety position was a weakness in 2009 with Sabby Piscitelli starting at strong safety, and Jones was brought in to remedy that problem. While Jones wasn't a flashy player and had a bit of a rocky start, he was overall a solid and dependable cog on defense. Not much more than that, but not anything less either. Someone who prevents the strong safety position from being a real need. 

The same cannot be said of Tanard Jackson. While the free safety's play on the field left little to be desired, his conduct off the field hurt the team badly. He got busted for violating the substance abuse policy for a third time, leading to an indefinite suspension. He's not eligible for reinstatement until week 3 of the 2011 season, and the team can't rely on him being back or effective at this point in time. It's a shame that such a good player allowed his career to be derailed by drugs. Hopefully he cleans up his act and manages to get back on the field, and back to his previous level of play. If he does, he could have a very bright future. 

Because Jackson was suspended two games into the season, the Bucs were left with a gaping hole at free safety. The most experienced backup on the squad was Sabby Piscitelli and nobody wanted to see him on the field. Preseason sensation Corey Lynch seemed to be the logical choice to start instead, as the third year player had more experience playing safety than the only other candidate on the roster: 7th-round pick Cody Grimm. But to everyone's surprise it was exactly that rookie who got the nod to start over the two more experienced players. His first start came against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it started off in Sabby-like fashion: on one of the first plays from scrimmage he gave up a long touchdown pass when he forgot to turn around and look for the ball. Groans were heard from the Bucs fanbase, as everyone feared the second coming of Piscitelli. Fortunately for every Bucs fan, Cody Grimm turned out to be much more than that. Two weeks later in his second start the son of Hall of Famer Russ Grimm intercepted Carson Palmer and scored a touchdown. He grabbed another interception the next week, and although those two picks were the only passes he defensed all season they did leave an impression. But his play against the pass wasn't what made him stand out, it was his run defense that did. Cody Grimm turned out to be a very solid tackler who located the ball well and was able to sift through traffic to get to the ball carrier. The 7th-round pick surprised everyone by playing the way he did, but he certainly showed that he's a dependable starter if not a flashy one. Surprisingly the Bucs don't need to fret too much over the loss of Tanard Jackson. 

And then Grimm broke his leg against the Ravens, and suddenly Sabby was back on the field. Whoops. That experiment luckily didn't last longer than that one game - and even in that one half Sabby seemed to mess up an assignment and give up a 64-yard touchdown. Sabby was quickly released and Corey Lynch was pressed into duty as the free safety. Lynch wasn't nearly the force in the run game that Grimm was, and didn't look like a dependable starter - but he was decent as a pass defender. He managed to grab an interception against the Falcons, and I can't remember him getting badly beat at any point. Still, Corey Lynch isn't much more than a decent backup and shouldn't be counted on as a reliable starter. 

The Bucs also added two other players toward the end of the season. The first was Dominique Harris, an undrafted rookie out of Temple University, who appeared in the last game of the season as a special teamer only. I can't say anything useful about him, but I'd be surprised to see him back next season. The other player was Larry Asante, a fifth-round pick for the Browns who the Bucs picked up off the Cleveland practice squad. It only took him a couple of weeks to actually get on the field, and in the second of his two games he intercepted Drew Brees. It's interesting that Asante got on the field that quickly, and it shows that Raheem Morris sees something he likes in him. I'd expect him to be back next year and appear in games as a role player. 

With Sean Jones and Cody Grimm as starters and Corey Lynch and Larry Asante as backups, the safety position can easily be upgraded but isn't a need. The fact that Tanard Jackson will likely be back at some point next season should prevent the Bucs from investing too much in safeties until they know what they have in Jackson. But if Jackson doesn't return to the team cleaned up and in shape, the Bucs will need to look at some replacements in 2012. Unless Asante develops at an astronomical pace. 

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