TAMPA – Since the Buccaneers began training camp workouts three days ago, Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter has twice been asked to name which position battles will be the most hotly contested. And twice he has given the same answer: kicker and safety. In that order.
Koetter added the spots at the bottom of the depth chart at wide receiver, tight end and linebacker to that list on Saturday, but once again forgot to mention what he later admitted was indeed one of the more important battles in all of camp: slot corner.
“It is (one of the more contested battles) ,” Koetter said. “I should have mentioned that. Good competition there. We’ve got three guys there that have all started at slot corner in this league and they’re all battling right now.’’
The ever-increasing use of three- and four-receiver sets has forced most NFL teams, including the Bucs, to treat the slot corner spot as if it’s a starter’s position because the slot corner is usually on the field for more than half of all plays on any given Sunday.
What teams tend to do is swap out a linebacker for a slot corner, who’s primary job is usually to cover the slot receiver but is sometimes asked to cover a tight end or running back. No easy task there, of course, so it’s a spot that requires a vast array of skills.
A slot corner has to be part cornerback, part safety and part linebacker and as Koetter pointed out, the Bucs have three players who have started NFL games at the position in Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliott and Robert McClain.
What makes this battle even more interesting is the fact that Adjei-Barimah had the job all but locked down until he was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s PED policy last year and therefore had to yield some starts to Elliott, who proved to be just as good.
Then the Bucs brought in McClain, who had played for coordinator Mike Smith in Atlanta, for depth, and McClain has been one of the more impressive players in camp drills so far, picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown on the first day of workouts.
The battle in the Bucs camp for the slot corner spot won’t get as much attention as the battles for the kicker’s job or those at the starting safety positons but it’s still one of the most important and it will likely prove to be just as intriguing as the others.