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Buccaneers defensive backs consistently declined under Lovie Smith

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Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

In a previous article, I covered the five year defensive snapshot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers between 2011 and 2015. There was one peak in 2013 and then plateau for the secondary in respect to pass defense.

TB Bucs
Football Oustiders Defensive Rankings, 2011 - 2015
Year Total Def Rank Total Def DVOA Pass Rank Pass Def Rush Rank Rush Def Head Coach
2011 31 14.20% 31 21.30% 30 7.60% Morris
2012 20 2.90% 26 16.90% 3 -19.60% Schiano
2013 8 -6.80% 11 -0.10% 8 -14.90% Schiano
2014 18 1.10% 23 14.90% 8 -14.50% Smith
2015 18 3.30% 26 20.60% 9 -16.50% Smith
http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef

The secondary went from bad to worse. Recently, CB Johnthan Banks has denoted displeasure from his previous head coach. A summary of the disdain can be found in this Bucs Nation article by Sander Philipse: Johnthan Banks is happy Lovie Smith is gone.

So this tidbit of information prompted me to look at our cornerback productions of Johnthan Banks, a second round rookie out of the 2013 NFL draft, and Alterraun Verner, a Pro Bowl free agent and second team All-Pro acquired by Tampa Bay in 2014. In the aforementioned, we noted the secondary play dropped between 2013 and 2014, when Lovie Smith took over as head coach. The secondary play dropped once again, coinciding with Lovie Smith taking control over play-calling from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Does Banks have a right to be upset?

Alterraun Verner

Alterraun Verner
Seasons 2013 - 2015
Year Team Calling Defense Games Games Started Tackles Combined Tackles INTs Passes Defended Stuffs
2013 Ten Gray 16 16 49 57 5 22 0
2014 TB Frazier 14 14 58 76 2 9 9
2015 TB Smith 16 6 45 56 1 4 0
http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/13478/alterraun-verner
Games played stat:  http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/oti/2013.htm

In 2014, Verner was used differently from Tennessee. As you can tell he was playing more on the line looking to stop the run. The following year, he only had six starts and relegated to the slot CB position. He was a second team All-Pro in 2013 and was 26 years old during the 2015 season! This makes no sense, but Verner has not been vocal about Lovie Smith - instead placating the team by trying to improve himself through it all.

The silver lining going into 2016 is that Verner is being re-united with his defensive backs coach from Tennessee, Brett Maxie. Under Maxie's coaching, Verner reached his high point of his career in 2013, collecting a few accolades.

Johnthan Banks

Johnthan Banks
Seasons 2013 - 2015
Year Calling Defense Games Games Started Tackles Combined Tackles INTs Passes Defended Stuffs
2013 Sheridan 16 16 49 55 3 5 1
2014 Frazier 15 14 41 50 4 10 1
2015 Smith 14 7 19 25 0 1 0
http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/15824/johnthan-banks
Games Played Stat:  http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/tam/2013.htm

Banks' trend is different from Verner's such that Banks improved under Leslie Frazier. To go from 2014 to 2015, Banks shared a similar fate to Verner's - demoted. It is baffling to see two extremes within two consecutive years under the same system. Was Banks a bad player or was Banks misused?

Notice the lack of interceptions in 2015. In Banks' scouting profile, he has been labeled a ball hawk as well as having a nose for the ball. You can read about his scouting compilation here by Sander:  What Banks Brings to the Bucs.

Allow me to add one more young character to this ensemble.

Mark Barron

Mark Barron
Seasons 2012 - 2015
Year Team Calling Defense Games Games Started Tackles Combined Tackles INTs Passes Defended Stuffs
2012 TB Sheridan 16 16 71 88 1 10 11
2013 TB Sheridan 14 14 70 88 2 6 4
2014 TB Frazier 7 7 35 49 0 3 0
2014 StL Williams 9 2 21 23 0 1 2
2015 StL Williams 16 12 79 116 0 5 18
http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/14932/mark-barron
Games played stat:  http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/tam/2012.htm

Along with those 2015 stats, Barron also induced four forced fumbles. While Barron was moved from safety to weak side linebacker with the Rams, that does not mean he lacked talent or a nose for the football. Here is a quote from LA Rams' head coach on Mark Barron:

Fisher said there's an explanation for Barron's versatility: "I would refer to it as 'football instincts.' They're special."

Lovie Smith was in charge of the 53 man roster. The secondary under Lovie Smith has been definitively supported to be weak, see the five year defensive metric chart at the beginning of the article. Now factor in the three young secondary players in Lovie's system and their waning importance to the team, then it makes one wonder was it the coaches, the system, or the players? If Banks and Verner produce well under new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, then the answer becomes quite apparent. As a Bucs fan, I am hoping that our cornerbacks were misused because it means we can address other areas of need.

Oh...  how about a veteran secondary player, the Hawk, Dashon Goldson.

Dashon Goldson
Seasons 2012 - 2015
Year Team Calling Defense Games Games Started Tackles Combined Tackles INTs Passes Defended Stuffs
2011 SF Fangio 14 14 55 67 6 9 1
2012 SF Fangio 16 16 55 69 3 11 1
2013 TB Sheridan 13 13 54 72 1 8 2
2014 TB Frazier 14 14 63 81 0 1 0
2015 Was Barry 15 15 71 110 1 3 1
http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/10569/dashon-goldson
Games played stat:  http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/tam/2013.htm

Eight passes defended under Schiano's last year with the Bucs. Hmmm...  switching over to the Tampa-2 seemed to have been a detriment than dominant, as the organization felt as though they did not have the correct personnel.