TAMPA – As a rookie learning a new position, Ryan Smith had a hard time standing out among what was then a less-than-stellar stable of Buccaneers safeties last year.
Now that he’s back at cornerback, the position he played all through his college career, Smith isn’t just standing out, he’s excelling and justifying the Bucs decision to spend a fourth-round draft pick on him.
On Thursday, for example, during an 11-on-11 drill at One Buc Place, Smith stealthy stepped in front of Donteea Dye to intercept a Jameis Winston pass during the Bucs last OTA workout of the week.
“He had a beautiful interception in the red zone (on Wednesday) and that one (Thursday), that would have been a pick-six,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “I mean, no one’s going to catch him.
“I was giving him a hard time right there, asking him if he could outrun the quarterback and the center and he just laughed. We knew he could. That was a good play by him.’’
It hasn’t been all good plays for Smith this offseason. He had a few days prior to this week where he struggled after falling into what Koetter called “a little bit of a funk.’’ But days like those have been rare.
The Bucs said last year after first moving Smith back to cornerback late in the season that no one did a better job of covering Mike Evans in practice than Smith did.
Now Smith is preparing to take on what Koetter referred to as “a major role’’ with the Bucs, likely filling the third outside cornerback spot behind starters Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes.
That’s not set in stone, of course. Smith must still beat out Javien Elliott, who had a pick on Thursday as well, and Robert McClain, who can also play slot corner just like Elliott.
But Smith might have a slight edge because of his value on special teams, where he was the Bucs primary kicker returner last year, returning 10 kicks for 169 yards.
That will make the battle for backup cornerback spots – one that will also feature slot corner, Jude Adjei-Barimah – one of the more interesting fights in all of training camp.
It’s a battle Koetter is definitely looking forward to, especially now that the Bucs are seeing what it is they’d always hoped they’d see out of the North Carolina Central product.
“Yeah, Ryan’s had his ups and downs,’’ Koetter said. “But we’re definitely excited about him.’’