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Tampa Bay Buccaneers focus on defensive backs at Senior Bowl practice

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:27 AM
MOBILE, Ala. -

Finding the Buccaneers brain trust amid the scores of scouts, coaches and general managers at this week's Senior Bowl workouts has not been a difficult task.

All you have to do is look where the defensive backs are practicing.

That's where general manager Mark Dominik, scouting director Dennis Hickey and head coach Greg Schiano have spent a good portion of their time. Not that anyone should be surprised.

If there's one spot on the Bucs' roster that needs bolstering, it's the defensive backfield, where they are running dreadfully short of starting-caliber cornerbacks.

With Aqib Talib gone, E.J. Biggers heading for free agency and Eric Wright possibly on the way out after an injury — and suspension-plagued season, Tampa Bay is in desperate need of top-level upgrades.

There's just one problem. This year's pool of draft-eligible cornerbacks is only about waist deep, according to scouts. With the 13th overall pick, the Bucs are likely to be out of range for the biggest catch in the pond.

Alabama junior Dee Milliner is one of two cornerbacks rated first-round worthy by Scouts Inc., which ranks Milliner as the eighth-best player in the draft and Mississippi State corner Johnthan Banks the 22nd. The contingent of cornerbacks drops off rather quickly after that, meaning the Bucs might have to reach or do some shrewd maneuvering.

"Yeah, I haven't (researched) all of the juniors yet, but from what I've seen I don't think there's one cornerback that I would sit here and bang the table for and say he's a top-10 guy," said Mike Mayock, a draft and game-day analyst for NBC and the NFL Network.

"I think there are some good cover guys in this class, but I think most of them are more second- and third-round kind of guys. I just don't know if that top-10 kind of guy is there this year.''

The Bucs might not be bothered by that assessment. The best cornerback in team history, Ronde Barber, was a third-round selection. They also found a starter or two beyond the first round the past couple years.

For example, linebacker Lavonte David, a candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year, was drafted in the second round in April, and linebacker Mason Foster was drafted in the third in 2011. Both began as rookies.

The same could hold true this year for Jordan Poyer of Oregon State or Desmond Trufant of Washington, who are projected as second-round picks. The Bucs have focused on both this week, even spending some time privately with Poyer, who admitted to trying to impress the Tampa Bay scouts after an interview earlier in the week.

"I'm really trying to put a lot of good film out there for them this week and let them know that I can play with the best of the best, so that if they decide to draft me they know they're getting a really good player,'' Poyer said.

Though only 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Poyer plays a lot bigger.

He has delivered one big hit after another against both the run and the pass during Senior Bowl workouts, and he said physical play is a big part of his game that he intends to carry over into the NFL.

"I do like to mix it up, because a lot of people think I'm undersized and lightweight," he said. "But I feel like I'm a scrappy player and I try to show that on the field and let people know I'm not afraid to hit.''

Trufant doesn't seem afraid to hit, either. But what the Bucs need more than anything are cornerbacks who can stick to a receiver and break up passes. Trufant might qualify there, too.

Trufant, the brother of Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, was so good his first two seasons as a starter at Washington that teams pretty much avoided throwing his way in 2012.

"I feel good about what I've done, but I came out here this week to prove to the scouts and coaches that I can be an elite player,'' Trufant said. "I want them to think I'm definitely one of the best out there.''

Dominik won't say where he thinks the draft is strongest, partly because he thinks the Bucs could take several directions with the 13th pick.

"I love where we're picking, because I think there are guys that we could consider moving up for and teams that are behind us that may want to come up and get someone specific at our spot,'' he said.

"The bottom line is, there are a lot of quality players in this draft and that's why I'm excited about what we can do, not just in the first round, but in the rounds below that, as well.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979 Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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