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Optimism Abounds for Bucs' Defensive Back Room at OTAs

Behind the podium on Tuesday, cornerback Jamel Dean dishes on the retooled defensive back room and its ceiling for 2024


Organized Team Activities (OTAs) provides a refresh course for all 32 clubs and an absorption process on the new installations. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cornerback Jamel Dean is focused on refining his toolkit through technique enhancement and catching balls on the JUGS machine to foster takeaways on the gridiron.

Throughout voluntary practices, Dean has worked with wide receiver Chris Godwin in a good old-fashioned iron-sharpens-iron matchup. Godwin, one of the league's best slot weapons has helped Dean augment his skillset in press, combatting releases. Last season, Dean missed several games with an ankle injury and amassed four passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and 61 tackles in 13 starts. This offseason with a clean bill of health, Dean has prioritized strengthening muscles that may have been neglected post-injury to foster well-balanced productivity. The Auburn product quickly accelerates to top speed and has the skills to keep pace with deep threats. Regarded as a lockdown press corner, Dean is gearing up to battle some of the league's top-tier receivers in 2024 with a talent-filled defensive back room.

At the inception of the free agency craze in March, the Buccaneers brought back Jordan Whitehead to solidify the secondary. Whitehead, who the Bucs selected in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay after spending the previous two seasons with the New York Jets. In his first four campaigns with the Bucs, Whitehead tallied 292 tackles, five interceptions, 25 passes defensed, 2.0 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in 59 games. In six playoff games, Whitehead posted another 22 tackles, a pass defensed and two forced fumbles.

While with the Jets, Whitehead played in and started all 34 of the team's games. Whitehead amassed 186 tackles during that span along with six interceptions and 17 passes defensed, including career-highs in interceptions (four) and tackles (97) in 2023. In New York, Whitehead showcased his range and pass coverage abilities while manning the middle of the field. Touted as a box safety, Whitehead can do it all: play the run near the line of scrimmage, cover tight ends in the flat, blitz the quarterback or flex out to shadow 'Z' receivers. Whitehead will join Antoine Winfield Jr. to create one of the most formidable safety tandems in the NFL.

Last season, second-year corner Zyon McCollum became the interchangeable plug-and-play piece in the secondary. He filled a variety of roles when needed as injuries piled up down the stretch. Due to his elite athleticism, the Bucs' staff wanted to get McCollum on the field in any capacity. McCollum played 665 snaps at outside corner, 59 at slot corner and 31 at safety in 2023. Overall, McCollum totaled 41 tackles and two forced fumbles. In his second year, McCollum took on an extended role in Todd Bowles' defense and worked to control his speed, as well as footwork in open-field tackling.

At the outset of the 2024 season with a fresh slate, optimism abounds. Behind the podium at OTAs, Dean grinned as he discussed his thoughts on the defensive back room and its potential.

"I feel like we can be great," noted Dean. "We brought back most of the people that we had the first couple of years that I was here, and then Zyon stepped up last year and you can see that coming into these OTAs, he is matured and is starting to get a vet mentality now. He is the next man up. The standard is still the same."

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