Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach Herman Edwards feels blessed to have a glut of starting-quality cornerbacks
Donnie Abraham may be one of the more underrated players in the National Football League...but probably not for long. Merely drawing attention as 'underrated' generally causes a player to leap quickly from that category to the more appreciated status of 'star'. Abraham began to draw that attention in 1999 as he tied for the NFC lead in interceptions (seven), scored two big touchdowns and knocked down a team-record 31 passes. Chances are, he won't be overlooked in 2000.
That's good timing for the Buccaneers, because Abraham finds himself the elder statesman in a group of young but very talented cornerbacks. At least, that's Herman Edwards' opinion which, while potentially biased, is certainly well-informed. Edwards is Abraham's coach and Buccaneers.com spoke with Edwards last week to learn his thoughts on the Bucs' secondary. We posted Edwards' opinions, in his own words, about the team's safeties on Saturday. Today we'll take a look at Abraham and the rest of the corners.
Edwards examined his crew in alphabetical order, working through a group that includes Abraham, fellow starter Ronde Barber, top backups and nickel backs Brian Kelly and Floyd Young, and a passel of newcomers that Head Coach Tony Dungy called the most talented group of rookie defensive backs he's had in his five years in Tampa. Besides Abraham, not one of those players has more than three years of experience, but Edwards feels they are well-schooled on the Buccaneer way, which has produced four top-10 pass defense rankings in four years.
"These young guys have to understand what the guy in front of them has done to get so good," said Edwards. "They have no choice. They have to live up to the standard. The standard doesn't come down, they have to come up. If they don't, then they're not good enough to be in the room. I tell my guys that right off the bat. The guys that generally make our team are the guys that are team-oriented, that believe in the team first. Everything else kind of works around that. That's how we've become a successful football team."
Edwards went on to give his thoughts on each player.
Donnie Abraham: The key for Donnie last year was staying healthy. He started all 16 games last year, whereas in 1998 he was a little nicked up. That's kind of tough on him because he's not a real big guy, and we ask him to do a lot of tackling. In our system, the corners have to tackle. This year, he stayed pretty much healthy. He was really focused and really had an excellent year, and he just had an excellent mini-camp. We're looking for him to keep on getting better every year."
Ronde Barber: "Ronde had a good year, he had a solid year. I think a lot of people perceived him as not having a big of a year as the year before, and rightly so. He made a lot of big plays in those last eight games (of 1998) and was probably the MVP of the defense in that stretch, if you look at what he did, all the big plays he made. He didn't make as many dramatic, big plays for us last year, but he was really a solid corner. At that position, people kind of overlook that at times. You're looking at a guy that probably gave up two touchdown passes all year, and that's not a lot for a corner.
"He had a good year and did an excellent job in our nickel package. He made a lot of plays in there. That nickel back position is really a linebacker when we take the 'Sam' linebacker out. He makes a lot of plays for us. He's really a good blitzer, makes a lot of plays on blitzes. He's a solid player, and the thing about Ronde is that he doesn't feel like he had the same year (in 1999) that he had the previous year, so he's been working really hard to try to improve himself. What Ronde will do is play up to his ability, and then some. That's all you can ask a guy to do every year."
Tarig Holman: "I tell you what...he's a 'tweener' in the fact that he's played some safety and he's played some corner. He has a little bit of Ronde's mentality, he's a pretty knowledgeable kid. He knows how to play within his abilities, which is important. He's gotten better. He's a guy that's better in zones than he would be in man-to-man. And he's got a little girth to him...he's a big guy, like 6-foot, 190-something pounds. He doesn't have the great catch-up speed, but what he has is pretty good awareness, which is what you need back there. He's battling for a spot. It will be interesting when we start playing. After awhile, watching guys in practice, you see them against the same receivers, and they start to anticipate routes. And the receivers kind of know what they're going to do. It will be good when we start to go against other teams, and we play our defense against other players and watch how he develops."
Brian Kelly: "He's the original 'big corner'. He was dubbed the big corner when we drafted him, because he is a big corner. He's 195 pounds, six-foot. We tease him about that, but he's a good football player and he's gotten better every year. He's a guy that basically came out of a system where he played lots of man-to-man, didn't play any zone. He was just learning his first two years (in Tampa). I think as you watch him in the spring, watch his confidence grow, watch how he's learned the system, you'll see that he's developed into a pretty good player for us. He's going to be fighting and biting at Ronde's heels to become a starter.
"I'm blessed because I've got three starters at corner, when you really look at it. You've got Donnie, Ronde and Brian, and if any one of those guys gets hurt, you've got another guy to go in there. And Brian has taken on another role in the fact that now he's the backup nickel guy. He's similar to Ronde, too, in that he's playing two positions. He's going to get better. There are no limitations to how much better he can get, because the more he plays the more he gains in confidence. He just has a little bit of a swagger about him this year, which you like in a corner. Hopefully, he'll have a great preseason and develop into a heck of a football player."
Deshone Mallard: "We know a little bit about Deshone. I think he had a pretty good season over there in the NFL Europe League. Obviously, he'll be a little bit behind, and he'll be a little bit tired. Those guys that come from that league, they get no real down time. He'll be competing at corner. The good thing about it is that he has played. His coaches, they were over here (at the Bucs' headquarters). We gave those guys a clinic; I worked with their secondary coach. They come here every year. He kind of used the same technique that we teach here, so (Mallard) will know a little bit of the technique that I'm trying to teach. That will help him tremendously, because then he won't have to start all over again. He'll come in and compete, and obviously it's tough. If he was here five years ago, it would have been easy. But it's tough now. I mean, we've got three corners that we can say are starters, then we've got Floyd Young, who's having a great spring. So it's tough, but that's what you want. That way, you know if a guy makes it you've got the best players."
Earthwind Moreland: "Earthwind Moreland's a real raw guy. He's a guy from Georgia Southern that has a lot of athletic ability. He can run, he has cover ability. I don't know what he is as a tackler yet, because we haven't asked them to tackle. He's a smart kid, he picks up things well. He's working every day, he's studying. He's a guy that has a chance...he has the athletic ability to play in this league, and play corner in this league. You can't say that about a lot of guys. Some guys play better depending on what team structure they're in. This guy, the structure won't hurt him because, athletically, he can make up for it. Obviously, he's raw, so it could take some time.
"What we try to do with guys like Earthwind during the preseason is to let them play against the second-string receivers of the other teams. You have to try to manage that so that he's not playing against a college player that's not going to be around. He doesn't need to play against the sixth receiver, because that's not telling me a lot. That's telling me that he can cover the sixth receiver who will probably be waived. He needs to play against the first and second-string receivers, to gauge his abilities against them. That also gives him confidence and gives me a better evaluation period on him."
Terrance Parrish: "Really, a quiet guy and a hard-working guy. And I think he's a real physical player. You can just tell with the way he runs around. When he runs up to guys (in the non-tackle drills), you can just tell that he's a guy that, when the pads come on, he's going to go hit somebody. He runs okay, he's a real good competitor. He'll improve. Will he improve enough to make it? I don't know. But he understood that when he signed here, and the thing he'll do is get better."
Floyd Young: "Floyd's a guy that's had a great spring, really. Last year, he was hurt and hampered a little bit. Towards the end of the year he came back and played special teams, but really didn't get to play a lot in the defense. This year, he's shown that he's back to his form in covering guys, and he came in with a lot of confidence. What we've got to do is make sure that he gets into the preseason games early, against the good receivers, so that he can get his confidence back playing against good players. That way, you're sitting here with four quality corners, and a lot of coaches can't say that. I'm very fortunate to have that many good players. He's a real key to us being very, very good back there. If you can get four guys of that caliber then, wow, you're really doing good."