Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times gives us a quick overview of two of the most important position battles this offseason: those at cornerback and at strongside linebacker. Surprisingly, it seems that Dekoda Watson was practicing with the first-team defense at linebacker, while not so surpirisingly, Johnthan Banks was playing ahead of Leonard Johnson with the first-team defense. Eric Wright started opposite Banks and moved to the slot in nickel packages, with Johnson coming in as the third cornerback.
Obviously the cornerback situation will change once Darrelle Revis comes back, as he will automatically take one starting spot. Banks' skillset is best suited to playing on the outside, which means that although he is likely to be the third cornerback, he will play on the outside in nickel sets with Eric Wright moving to the slot -- although that responsibility can likely change depending on where the receiver Revis will be tracking lines up.
At linebacker, Watson being with the first team defense ahead of Jonathan Casillas is a bit of a surprise. Casillas was signed in free agency this year, as the New Orleans Saints had no room on their roster after moving to a 3-4 defense and stocking up on 4-3 linebackers (but no other defensive position) last season. Watson has been a dominant special teams player and is an athletic specimen with some limited edge rushing skills, but he hasn't been able to do much on defense in his career so far.
It's interesting to note that Watson is now ahead of Adam Hayward, who played the strong side late last season when Quincy Black went down. The Bucs may see Hayward mostly as a versatile backup and special teams player, rather than a reliable starter. Or perhaps they just want to see what Watson and Casillas can do, as both of them are more athletic than Hayward.
The strongside linebacker position is probably the least important position on defense, as that player typically gets just 40% of the snaps, mostly on running downs. When the Bucs still had their vaunted Tampa 2 defense, which runs on similar front seven principles to the current Stunt 4-3-based defense, the team seemed to switch to a new unknown starter every year, with Lonnie Marts, Rufus Porter, Jeff Gooch, Shelton Quarles, Al Singleton, Ryan Nece, Ian Gold and Cato June all getting a shot at that starting job.
At this point in the offseason it doesn't mean much, but it's worth keeping an eye on. Watson may simply be ahead of Jonathan Casillas because he's familiar with the playbook, and he could lose the starting job quickly in offseason camp. These position battles are far from decided, but at least we know where they stand for the moment.
Update: Tom Krasniqi writes that Leonard Johnson was actually the starter opposite Wright.
With Revis sidelined, CB Leonard Johnson lined up in the firs team opposite Eric Wright.And Dekoda Watson was a SLB for the #Bucs— Tom Krasniqi (@TKras) May 20, 2013
Update 2: Stephen Holder has now confirmed that Krasniqi is right, and he was wrong. Okay.