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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Christian Izien Secures Slot Corner Job

Rookie safety Christian Izien was named the starting nickel cornerback by Head Coach Todd Bowles on Sunday, and Izien may not be the only undrafted free agent to make the 53-man roster this week


Midway through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2023 training camp, Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed what seemed to be evident on the practice field: rookie safety Christian Izien was the front-runner for the team's opening at slot cornerback. On Sunday, following the Buccaneers' preseason-capping 26-20 win over Baltimore, Bowles declared the competition over with a simple, "Yes, he has."

Izien has won the job.

Though he's yet to play a regular-season NFL down, Izien has already accomplished an impressive feat by nabbing that starting role, given that he was just signed as an undrafted rookie in May. The Minnesota Vikings will determine if Izien is officially in the starting lineup in Week One – if Minnesota's offense opens with three receivers, Izien will be on the field as the Bucs' third corner – but if that happens it would be a rare occurrence. The last undrafted rookie to start on opening day for Tampa Bay was fullback Bruce Perkins in 1990.

Izien played safety for his first three seasons at Rutgers but then manned the slot in 2022, and the Buccaneers signed him with that job specifically in mind. He sat out the middle game of the Bucs' preseason slate but started the first and third contests, recording a total of three tackles and one forced fumble.

The Buccaneers have to trim their roster from 90 players down to 53 by Tuesday afternoon. By virtue of his winning the nickel corner job, Izien has presumably locked down one of those 53 spots. He may not be the only undrafted rookie to make it through to the opening day roster this year, however. Bowles stated on several occasions during training camp that he thought there were roster opportunities for multiple undrafted rookies, and he made that case even more strongly on Sunday. Bowles said he expected there to be more players in that category on the Week One roster than any other team he had previously coached.

"Yes, it will be," he said. "It will be by far. You know the draft picks have a good chance of sticking, but there [are] quite a few free agents that will make this team."

Among the other rookie free agents who have made a strong impression in training camp and the preseason are wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, running back Sean Tucker, outside linebacker Markees Watts, cornerback Keenan Isaac and safety Kaevon Merriweather. Each of those players may or may not grab a spot on the first iteration of the Bucs' 2003 regular season roster, but they certainly have made the decision-making harder for Bowles and his staff, particularly after another good showing in the preseason finale.

"I thought everybody kind of showed consistently what they've been showing through the past couple weeks," said Bowles. "The guys that [have] played well continued to play well, the guys that were kind of not playing well didn't play as well. We've got some tough decisions to make, regardless, because there's a couple guys right there on the bubble."

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