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A look at an improving secondary: Sean Murphy-Bunting

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The series continues, this time diving into what Sean Murphy-Bunting brings to the table.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints
Sean Murphy-Bunting #26 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Next up on this list we’ll be taking a look at Sean Murphy-Bunting, the Buccaneers 2019 second-round selection from Central Michigan. When his name was called, the Bucs twitter-verse was anything but welcoming for the most part. Who is this Sean Bunting (as his name was called on draft day) and why is my team using a second round pick on him?

Well, during OTA’s and other off-season programs, Sean Murphy-Bunting decided to show everyone who he was and why he should be a name to remember. For weeks we heard about how he was progressing quickly and how much he would contribute during the 2019 season.

Much like Jamel Dean, Murphy-Bunting didn’t really get a chance to show everyone what he had until later on in the season. This was something that led to quite the stir from Bucs fans everywhere, especially as this secondary was getting burned week after week. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, Vernon Hargreaves III was playing some of the worst football we’ve ever seen from this secondary (which is REALLY saying something).

Week 5 of the 2019 season was when this opportunity presented itself to him and he never looked back. He played pretty well through his rookie campaign, recording 3 interceptions and 8 passes defensed. While the number of passes defensed was nowhere near the number that Jamel Dean racked up, the 3 interceptions really displayed that he knows how to get his hands on a football.

Now with the other looks at Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III, we saw them progress through the season, ultimately looking much better than their first game. With Murphy-Bunting, what we saw in week 5 was similar to what we saw in week 17 with the exception of a few things. He is a fairly high floor corner that showed flashes of being very good, and that is something you really can’t be upset with when looking at a rookie campaign for any player in the secondary.

Many teams throw their young secondary players to the wolves, sitting idly by while these young men are tirelessly burned week after week. Opponents and their fan-bases sit back and chortle, all while a young man’s dream slowly begins to die. This isn’t what we saw from Arians and Co. and I think it really paid off.

With all of this being said, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There were times where he was left in the dust or otherwise out of position. However, this is something we see from every corner not named Darrelle Revis, no matter how good they are.

Well I’ve been doing quite a bit of rambling, it’s time I started showing you what I’m talking about.

AREAS HE IMPROVED

As I’ve been saying this whole time, he played well. He looked confident, stuck to routes incredibly well, and had a knack for coming down with the football. However, sometimes things just looked off, mostly in his footwork and press technique.

But you remember how earlier I said that he was mostly the same through the season, with a few exceptions? Well, I also think these are two of the areas he improved the most in as the season progressed.

Footwork

Murphy-Bunting’s primary technique is a bail technique. For those that don’t know, a bail technique is when a corner rotates their hips to sprint towards the goal line they’re defending, all while keeping their chest and eyes towards the QB. While this is a very good technique for defending deep routes, it sometimes got him into trouble with routes that came back or cut hard either in or out based on his poor footwork on breaks.

Here’s something like this on display against the Falcons in Atlanta:

Notice he bails immediately and stays with his coverage through the stem of the route. But when he reaches the top of the route, his lateral steps are too wide and it leads to him taking too long to change direction. To fix this, all he has to do is make these steps smaller and more choppy which would really help the change of direction.

Despite his propensity to use a bail technique, he sometimes had issues when he was not using this technique. He sometimes just danced with receivers until they lulled him into beating him inside.

Here’s Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints doing this against Murphy-Bunting in week 5:

Oh Sean, I know Thomas has done this to many a corner, but to miss the tackle on the back-end just made it worse. I feel for Murphy-Bunting on this play, he just took too many wide steps and it really made it difficult to cut inside when Thomas did. Again, the footwork got him in trouble.

Here’s Christian Kirk doing the same thing to him in week 10:

While Kyler Murray didn’t throw this to Kirk underneath, it was wide open. Murphy-Bunting just takes a few too many steps in the wrong direction, with too wide of a stance. This wide stance really got him on trouble last season, but I think towards the end it tightened up a bit.

Here’s a look at a time where he tightened up the stance and stuck with the receiver the whole way:

While D.J. Chark (#17) isn’t Michael Thomas, he isn’t a bad receiver by any means. Look how Murphy-Bunting tightens his hips compared to the previous three plays. His feet remain much tighter and it makes it so much easier for him to make that cut with Chark.

Press Technique/Hand-Fighting

Another one of the bigger issues I noticed from Murphy-Bunting was when he was pressing a receiver or using his hands to win routes. He may have a smaller frame that limits his ability to do this successfully, however, he didn’t get physical enough in these situations and it really cost him.

Here’s a look at this happening against the Saints:

Notice he lines up right over Ted Ginn Jr. here. He is right across from him, tries to put his hands on him to prevent the quick release, but he just doesn’t put enough into it. This led to Ginn winning the route by a huge margin and would’ve led to a touchdown if Taysom Hill was actually a quarterback.

Here’s another look at this against the falcons:

So this looks like it should be a press the way he lines up on the receiver, however even if it wasn’t the call, this is bad technique regardless. He kind of just sits back and waits for the receiver to come to him. Instead of putting his hands on him and feeling where the route is headed, he waits and gets immediately beat off the line. This leads to an easy completion and a first down pick up.

While this was quite poor during his first few weeks, it was much improved later on in the season and here’s an example of this against the Texans:

On this play, Murphy-Bunting immediately places his hands on Kenny Stills and uses this physicality to stay glued to the route. Stills extends his right arm to create separation and Murphy-Bunting puts his left arm up to fight back and hang on. Not only does he stick to the route, he also does a good job of holding him back when the ball was tipped and still could’ve made it’s way into Stills’ hands.

AREAS WHERE IMPROVEMENT IS NEEDED

Through this whole article I’ve been discussing how he played well and improved on a few things; however, there were a couple of things that were there the whole season and should be looked at as areas of focus.

The first of these being his (and most of the Bucs’ corners for that matter) depth of coverage. Oftentimes when comeback or curl routes are run against them, they are so deep that they lead to easy completions and first downs.

Carlton Davis III was actually the corner who showed the most improvement in this area but I think Murphy-Bunting is still a few steps behind on this.

Here’s an example of this happening against the Texans later on in the season:

So this looks likes cover 1 (based on safety alignment pre-snap) with man underneath. Murphy-Bunting is the off man in this formation so I have no issue with the pre-snap movement and bail. However, when he begins to fully flip to follow Stills on a potential go route, Stills comes back and makes an easy catch.

Now, this is something I will not be so harsh about as this is something that is so difficult for any corner to handle, much less a rookie. I think with more film study this will improve as it did for Carlton Davis III.

Another area that I saw that he could work on in his coverage on deep routes. He is good at hanging onto routes that stay about 15-20 yards downfield, but when quick receivers run go routes he can often be left hanging.

Not only can you see this on the route that Ginn ran in the poor press section, you can also see it here against the Cardinals:

This play perplexed me a bit to be honest with you. I am not sure if he thought he had safety help over the top, but by the alignment he should know that there wouldn’t be any. He sort of lackadaisically shuffles back but when he sees Kirk running full speed he doesn’t react fast enough.

He initially shuffles back and waits for Kirk to get to him, but he just doesn’t break into a bail quickly enough. Kirk is a speedy receiver, so Murphy-Bunting should know that if Kirk runs deep that he needs to keep up with him. Well he doesn’t, and it led to an easy TD here.

Now, getting burned happens to everyone. However, this can’t be blamed on being outran, instead it is more so a reflection of his technique.

CONCLUSION

So this kid is good. There is no doubting that. What I saw from him this past season made me really excited to see what he will bring next season. Most of the improvements to be made are not necessarily easily fixable, but things that can be fixed with hard work and dedication and let’s be real here, if anyone can fix these issues it’s Todd Bowles.

All in all, the three corners that the Bucs will roll out next season will not only have the one (or two in Davis’s case) years of experience under their belt, they will also have the reps that are required to really build chemistry.

Two of the three starting corners didn’t even play until later in the season. They never got a chance to mesh in camp or in the earlier parts of the season but they still showed a lot of chemistry towards the latter end. On top of this, the addition of Antoine Winfield Jr. should be very welcomed and will help out quite a bit on the back end.

Bucs fans should be excited, I know I am. This group looks poised to take on the world in 2020 and for years to follow.

Well, what do you think? Are these guys not the answer? Are you as excited as I am? Are there any other position groups you want to see film on? Let me know in the comments below!