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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Beat: Team has options at free safety

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:14 AM
TAMPA -

The sudden and surprising dismissal on Tuesday of talented yet troubled Tanard Jackson leaves Buccaneers followers wondering what the team will do to fill the gaping hole at the safety position.

There are plenty of options.

One, of course, is to promote from within, where the Bucs are still high on Larry Asante and intrigued by the playmaking ability of Ahmad Black, the former Gators  defender they drafted in the fifth round last year.

There is also free agency to consider. Though the top-level safeties have been gobbled up, the potential to land a serviceable starter such as O.J. Atogwe or Melvin Bullitt is still there, and the Bucs are still shopping.

Finally, there is the draft. Though, most analysts agree this year's safety class is not an exceptional one, there are couple of players projected to go in the top three rounds the Bucs could be targeting.

One Tampa Bay fans might want to get to know a little better is Harrison Smith, a chiseled 6-foot-2, 213-pound Notre Dame product who most scouts rate as a second-round talent and some see as a top-50 pick.

Beyond his size, one of the things that might make Smith attractive to the Bucs is his versatility. Scouts say he is accomplished at both free and strong safety and also can play strongside linebacker.

He's a leader, too, both on and off the field. Smith is the only Irish player to record 200 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 15 pass breakups in a career. He was twice named a team captain at Notre Dame.

The Bucs, as you may remember, are big on team captains. Six of the eight players they drafted a year ago were college team captains, so Smith seems to fit the bill of a player the Bucs not only need but want.

Tackling the first round

Looking at the first round of the draft, there is good reason to think the Bucs might not pass on USC OT Matt Kalil should RB Trent Richardson and CB Maurice Claiborne be gone.

To begin with, RT Jeremy Trueblood is entering the final year of his contract and the Bucs don't really have a replacement for him. Then there is the recent play of LT Donald Penn.

Pro Football Weekly analyst Nolan Nawrocki believes Penn has lost some quickness as he's beefed up the past two years. According to STATS LLC, Penn gave up a discouraging nine sacks last year.

Distinguished service

Now on the cusp of his 16th season in a Bucs uniform, CB Ronde Barber leads a list of 11 players who have put in 10 consecutive years of service to the organization.

LB Derrick Brooks is second on the list with 14 consecutive years, while RB Mike Alstott and OT Paul Gruber are tied for third with 12 straight seasons.

S John Lynch has 11 straight seasons, followed by C Randy Grimes, CB Brian Kelly, C Tony Mayberry, LB Shelton Quarles, DE Lee Roy Selmon and OL Steve Wilson with 10 consecutive years.

Looking ahead

In a short period of time – just three seasons – TE Kellen Winslow has waged quite an assault on the Bucs' offensive record book.

With 212 catches and 12 touchdown receptions, Winslow needs just 22 catches and two touchdown receptions to reach 10th place on the team's all-time pass and touchdown receptions lists. Also, with 2,377 receiving yards, he needs just 46 to surpass Ron Hall and rank second among all Bucs tight ends in receiving yards. Jimmie Giles holds the record at 4,300.


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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