What happened in 2011
I don't want to talk about it. Really, I don't. This past season was traumatic enough as it is, but the safeties just...ugh. Missed tackles, blown coverages, lack of effort - everything happened. Even the return of the once great Tanard Jackson did nothing to help ease the disastrous quality of play at the position. In fact, Jackson may have turned into the worst tackler in the NFL - which is pretty impressive considering the competition he was getting from Quincy Black, Sean Jones and others. Arms, Tanard, they exist for a reason - and that reason is not to have them flailing about helplessly while you jam your torso into a random running back.
While the play at safety was never expected to be great this season, with mediocre safeties Sean Jones and Cody Grimm the projected starters. Sean Jones was a solid but unspectacular player before the season, but he turned into perhaps the slowest safety in the NFL, and he failed to consistently bring down players. Worse yet, it appeared that his effort was lacking at times. Cody Grimm provided a spark in the running game in the 2010 season, but couldn't replicate that feat in 2011 - in part because he was lost for the season with a knee injury three games into his sophomore effort.
When Tanard Jackson returned from his drug-related suspension, Bucs fans had some reason to hope things would improve. After all, the veteran had performed at a high level in previous years. And early in 2011 he provided a few splash plays - but he had apparently forgotten how to tackle, which essentially meant the Bucs were playing with ten men every time opponents ran the ball. Add to that some abysmal decisions in coverage, and Jackson's proved to be a curse rather than a blessing.
Rookie Ahmad Black, second-year player Larry Asante and perennial backup Corey Lynch couldn't offer much, either. Black and Asante lack size and speed, and they showed nothing when given the chance to perform late in the season. Lynch was given a few opporuntities throughout the season, but while he was adequate in pass defense he, too, was a liability in run defense. In short, this position group was a total disaster.
With Sean Jones' contract ending, the Bus are unlikely to want him back after his horrible 2011 season. That leaves the Bucs with a hole at strong safety, a hole they have to hope the undersized Cody Grimm can fill - if he's even back to 100% by the time the season starts after suffering a knee injury last season. Ahmad Black and Larry Asante could develop, but they don't have much to offer in terms of physical tools either, so they have to be considered question marks as well.
Meanwhile, Corey Lynch is a useful backup and core special teams player, but his contract runs out and it´s not clear whether the Bucs even want him back. Tanard Jackson still has all the potential in the world, and there´s reason to hope he can rebound from his 2011 season with a full offseason of work. But the team must add competition for the veteran free safety.
Expect a major retooling of the safety position this offseason.
Unfortunately, the Bucs don´t have much options at safety this offseason. The top prize on the market in free agency may be LaRon Landry, a dynamic safety in the box who gets in trouble when he´s farther removed from the line of scrimmage. Michael Griffin is more well-rounded, but unlikely to actually hit the open market. Then come Thomas Decoud, Jim Leonhard and Dwight Lowery - all unremarkable starters. It doesn't take long before we're looking at the likes of walking penalty Brandon Meriweather and the Bucs' own Sean Jones.
The draft isn't much better. There's one safety worthy of a first-round pick, and he goes by the name of Mark Barron. He's unlikely to be available for the Bucs in the second round, which would leave them with mediocre options and players who probably can't immediately start. While the Bucs must do something at safety, their options are extremely limited.
Projected depth chart:
Tanard Jackson, New Addition, Cody Grimm, Ahmad Black.