Watch: Johnthan Banks taking his cues from the best
Johnthan Banks admits to being nervous before his NFL game debut on Thursday night, but according to the Tampa Bay Buccaneer rookie, that's not a bad thing. The jangling of his nerves tells Banks that he's primed to play.
"I was nervous, but that's football," said the second-round draft pick out of Mississippi State. "I was nervous before my first [youth] game. Every game I'm nervous. That's how I know I'm ready."
The Bucs thought Banks was ready enough to join second-year man Leonard Johnson as the two starting cornerbacks in Tampa Bay's 2013 preseason opener, with eventual starter Darrelle Revis still on his way back from last year's knee injury. And Banks made his mark quickly, racking up three tackles on Baltimore's very first drive, which ended in Danny Gorrer's interception in Buccaneer territory. By game's end, Banks had a team-high five tackles, several of them of the rugged variety, to go with a pass defense.
Banks admits this, too…or perhaps it is more of a prediction: That wasn't his best work.
"No, that was nowhere close to being the best of me," he said. "I was just shaking the cobwebs out. Now I'll watch the film, go out to practice and compete and try to get better."
Of course one wouldn't expect a highly-touted rookie – the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top collegiate defensive back – to peak in his very first preseason game. A noticeably strong effort among some difficult conditions, including a driving rainstorm in the second quarter, was about what the Buccaneers could have hoped for. They'll be expecting more in the future, however.
"Banks did some good things," said Head Coach Greg Schiano on Friday, after having reviewed the game tape. "[He] made some rookie mistakes, but did some good things too. There was some stuff to build on there, which is nice."
The Buccaneers have already been rebuilding Banks' tackling technique, and the results are obvious. Banks is tall if somewhat slight (6-2, 185), but he showed no hesitation to take on bigger ballcarriers in the open field on Thursday night, including 260-pound fullback Vonta Leach.
"Coach is always taking physical, and that's one thing we work on, being physical," said Banks. "I just took what we've done in practice to the game, and I'm going to try to continue to get better. They've changed my whole style of tackling. Everything is, 'Bite the ball, bite the ball.' It's been working; it worked tonight so I'm going to continue to do what they say. Whatever they ask me to do, that's what I'm going to do."
For Banks, 'bite the ball' means keeping a very physical approach throughout an entire tackle. He showed he can absorb coaching with his reliance on that technique on Thursday night, and he also showed that he's ready for even more important game situations.
"What I felt last night showed out on tape, it wasn't too big for him, he challenged guys," said Schiano. "You could see guys that are a little bit tentative out there at the corner, they're going to give extra big cushion, they're going to play with their eyes. The one thing that Johnthan keeps getting better at is he's disciplining his eyes and that's the hardest thing to do as a defensive back, is put your eyes where they're supposed to be. If they're supposed to be on the quarterback have them there; if they're supposed to be on your man have them there and if you're supposed to take them off your man at a certain time and put them on the quarterback, [do that]. That sounds easy but it's not when the guy is bearing down on you and there's a crowd full of people waiting to see if you get beat."
If Banks can continue to progress from his strong NFL debut, it may eventually be opposing quarterbacks who are nervous before Buccaneer games.