The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just one day away from their pre-season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. The team will be on the road for the first two preseason games before hosting the last two games.
Of course, training camp practices are beneficial to players, but nothing prepares a team more than live game reps. For veterans like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David these games don’t mean much, but for rookies and players fighting for starting jobs, this game does in fact hold a lot of weight.
One Buccaneer player who is on that bubble in terms of playing time is Ryan Smith. Smith has a spot on the roster because of his ability to play the gunner role on special teams, but his playing time at corner is certainly up in the air. Smith definitely had his fair share of struggles last season at cornerback. According to PFF, Smith was the 95th ranked cornerback last season, with a grade of 58.8 in coverage. The PFF scale has that number in the “poor” range.
Due to his struggles and really the rest of the secondary, the team was forced to nearly overhaul the cornerback position and they added cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart during the draft. The team was also more pressed to bring back Brent Grimes during free agency because neither Smith nor Vernon Hargreaves has shown the ability to be a true #1 cornerback. To say that the cornerback position is a competition right now would be an understatement.
Head Coach Dirk Koetter has always thought highly of Ryan Smith ever since he was drafted in 2016. In fairness to Smith, he has been moved around quite a bit since being drafted, but these pre-season games are extremely important to him and will most likely determine how much playing time he gets in the regular season.
Koetter did acknowledge yesterday after practice that the cornerback position is very tight and that Smith is absolutely being challenged.
“Ryan, because of the guys we’ve added, he’s having to compete. Last year he may have gotten elevated a little faster than normal just because of the depth we had – or lack thereof – at that position,” Koetter said. “He’s in a stiff competition right now. Ryan’s working at it. He’s getting better, and he’s just got to hang in there and keep improving.”
Ryan Smith will ultimately end up being the fifth cornerback on this team behind Grimes, Hargreaves, Davis and Stewart. Koetter didn’t exactly spew confidence towards Smith’s play thus far in training camp, but we will see. Perhaps I am just reading too much into preseason press conferences.
However you slice it, these four preseason games are absolutely huge for everyone at cornerback besides Brent Grimes.