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Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

The biggest question for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be what to do with Aqib Talib. Recent reports suggest that the Bucs will hang onto the cornerback at least until the legal process has run its course. While Roger Goodell could suspend Talib anyway, he has usually waited for the legal process to come to a conclusion before taking action. Besides that, it's not even clear if Goodell will be allowed to punish players for transgressions during the lockout. Aqib Talib is likely to spend the entire season with the Buccaneers, and this gives them a lot of depth at the cornerback position. 

The elder statesman on the team is Ronde Barber, who has started for the Bucs since his sophomore season in 1998. He is likely to start across from Aqib Talib again in 2011, as he returns on a one-year contract. Ronde Barber's value doesn't come as an outside cover cornerback, though, but at this point comes more from his instincts, his impact in the run game and his skills and versatility as a slot cornerback. 

The Buccaneers also have some depth behind these two starters. E.J. Biggers showed that he could be a starting cornerback in the NFL last season, as he played on the outside in nickel packages and replaced Aqib Talib when he was off the field. Biggers does not have a lot of upside, but he's a solid cornerback who will not embarrass himself on the field, except against the very best wide receivers like Calvin Johnson

With Myron Lewis, the Buccaneers also have a very talented, young cornerback. Myron Lewis got on the field late last season as the cornerback in nickel packages when Aqib Talib was injured, and flashed some great skills. At times he stuck to receivers like glue, and he made some plays against good receivers including winning a jump ball versus Calvin Johnson, which is no mean feat. Unfortunately, Myron Lewis also showed that he lacked skills and technique, which affected his consistency. Lewis needed an offseason of hard work, tape study and technique work to improve, and while he has supposedly worked hard to fix his game, he will miss the coaching he could have received this offseason. 

The Buccaneers also have a number of scrappy, small cornerbacks on the roster. Elbert Mack was the nickel corner in 2009 and the dime corner in 2010, but lacks the skills to be a good cornerback in the NFL. Somehow he keeps sticking on the roster, but I doubt he makes it this time. Anthony Gaitor is a seventh-round draft pick who the Bucs supposedly love. Like Mack he's an undersized fighter. I have no idea how good he'll be, but being a draft pick will give him a leg up to make the roster. Gaitor could be a practice squad candidate if he can't beat out Elbert Mack, but that seems like a long shot. Besides those players, the Bucs also have D.J. Johnson. The third year player has spent most of his time on the practice squad, but you never know what he'll do in the offseason. 

With a lot of depth at the cornerback position it would be a shocker if the Bucs brought in a big-time free agent, but they do have the cap room to do so. Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cornerback available, but will demand at least $15 million per year and his age and playing style may not fit what the Bucs want. Johnathan Joseph is a more likely candidate for the Bucs as the second-best cornerback on the market. Other possibilities include Antonio Cromartie, who has tremendous talent but lacks technique and effort, and Ike Taylor, who has been a consistent performer in a coverage scheme that is somewhat similar to what the Bucs run. Finally, the Bucs could try to sign away Brent Grimes from the Atlanta Falcons

None of that seems likely, though, and the Bucs will probably stick with what they have at cornerback. 

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