- CB Alterraun Verner learned more than he expected last week about the new defense he'll be playing in Tampa
- Verner and the rest of the Bucs' cornerbacks are getting strong coaching from Gill Byrd, who knows the system well
- Cornerbacks have a greater array of responsibilities in Lovie Smith's Cover Two than in some other schemes
The voluntary three-day mini-camp the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held last week – an extra one afforded to the team because it has a new coaching staff in 2014 – seemed like a good idea to Alterraun Verner, if only because it would allow him to get to know his new environment. Verner was thinking along the lines of meeting his teammates, meshing with the coaches and getting a sense for the style of communication at One Buccaneer Place.
Turns out, he learned a lot more, quickly, and not just the intangibles. The Buccaneers' coaching staff got right down to the nuts and bolts, and Verner was a bit surprised at how much progressed was made in three days.
"I think the coaching's been very, very good so far," said Verner, the Pro Bowl cornerback who left Tennessee to join the Buccaneers in the early hours of free agency in March. "Just me, personally, I'm learning a lot about the position. I didn't think I could [still] learn that much, but Coach [Gill] Byrd's been doing a good job out there. I think we have the potential to be really good. I don't like to put numbers on it or anything like that, but I think we are going to be an intimidating force come season-time."
When Lovie Smith, Jason Licht and the Buccaneers' management made the decisions to release star cornerback Darrelle Revis and, subsequently, to land Verner at a significantly lower price, it was seen by most as an astute pair of moves. That was true not only because the salary difference allowed the Buccaneers to redirect resources to other areas of need – defensive end Michael Johnson, tackle Anthony Collins, etc. – but because Verner was considered a perfect fit for Smith's Cover Two defense. Smith had played the Cover Two earlier in his four-year run with the Titans, if not so much last year, but he hadn't played Smith's Cover Two. There is a lot for him to learn, but not quite as much now after that instructive first week spent under Byrd's tutelage.
"Certain techniques that we're doing with the Cover Two, I've never really looked at it in that perspective, as far as re-routing for a little bit longer maybe; getting our vision back to the quarterback; certain techniques from shuffling to sprinting out; and the variations on where we can help out and where our linebackers might be and where our safeties play," said Verner. "So there's a lot of terminology, verbiage, that he's telling us and I'm getting used to it, but he's also opening my eyes to a lot more possibilities."
CB Alterraun Verner is considered a perfect fit for a Cover Two defense, one he played earlier in his career in Tennessee
Byrd, for instance, picked up on the fact that Verner would occasionally have both of his feet off the ground too long when shuffling. Fixing that will help Verner make quicker reactions and changes of direction, which is obviously a core skill for a cornerback. Byrd, a former All-Pro cornerback himself with the San Diego Chargers, worked on Smith's staff in Chicago for seven years, so he obviously has a firm grasp on the concepts, techniques and details of the defense being installed at One Buccaneer Place. More than that, though, he has an ability to connect with his players, according to a very appreciative Verner.
"To me, he's a great coach, but what I've gotten a sense of is that he's an even better person," he said. "To me, if you can relate to the person and you comfortable approaching them – not even about football but just about life, circumstances, things like that – you build that relationship where you're going to take their coaching a little bit better. Or he's going to take our input a little bit more.
"He's a great technician. He's so smart. He knows everybody's responsibilities, not just corners but safeties, linebackers, D-linemen, stunts and everything. So when you ask him a question he'll give you a very intellectual response and let you really know why we're doing certain things. To me, I'm very analytical about certain things, so he's been great so far and I'm learning a lot from him."
Smith structured his coaching staff so that Byrd specifically works with the cornerbacks, while Mikal Smith tutors the safeties. Senior Defensive Assistant Larry Marmie is also involved, teaching specific techniques to those who are working as the slot corner. The setup is a good one for Byrd, who has a lot to get through to his chargers. Verner points out that in many systems, the cornerback has the least amount of detail to be responsible for; in a mostly man-to-man scheme, it's basically picking a man and covering him. Not so in the Bucs' defense.
"As a corner, you're expected to know a lot [here]," said Verner. "You've got to know certain fits; you've got to know stunts by the D-Linemen because you might have to show up in the run; you might have to do something to help the safeties out. There a lot of nuances where we have to be very smart. We've got to know what we're doing, we can't rely on somebody else telling us. That's probably the biggest thing. That's why we have to study and know so much and get in our playbook, because we have those additional responsibilities here."
Verner is a willing student, so this process was likely to go well for him, regardless. Still, he has quickly learned that Byrd's presence is going to make his transition much easier.
"I think we got a lot done over those three days," said Verner, "and I'm just looking forward to progressing."