Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rookie Christian Izien Getting Long Look at Slot Corner

Christian Izien, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers who played safety for much of his collegiate career, is getting a significant amount of first-team work in training camp as the Bucs test out candidates for their wide-open nickel job


All eyes in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2023 training camp are on the quarterback position, where the starting job is completely and expressly up for grabs for the first time in more than a decade. Todd Bowles and his staff don't seem very close to making a decision, but the two possible answers have been clear for months. The Buccaneers have known since signing Baker Mayfield in March that the job was going to go to the veteran free agent addition or returning third-year man Kyle Trask.

The other starting position on the Buccaneers depth chart that had no definitive answer at the start of camp is slot corner. That battle may not be getting the daily wall-to-wall attention that Mayfield and Trask are eliciting, but perhaps it should, because the potential answers are far less obvious and highly intriguing. Perhaps this is the best way to emphasize the point: From all appearances through the first 10 days of camp, one of the leading candidates is an undrafted rookie who is listed on the roster as a safety.

That rookie is Christian Izien, a Rutgers product with a build reminiscent of Antoine Winfield Jr. and a knack for catching the attention of various coaches. Not only is Izien getting near-daily reps with the first time in the nickel defense but he's also quickly convinced special teams gurus Keith Armstrong and Keith Tandy that he might be one of their best options at punt gunner. However, while Izien's rising stock on special teams might be an unanticipated development since his arrival in Tampa, his work in the slot is no accident. The Buccaneers had that idea specifically in mind when they recruited him to Tampa immediately after the draft in April.

"Coach Bowles and I spoke about it during the draft," said Izien after practice at the AdventHealth Training Center on Friday. I knew what they had in mind for me."

As the Bucs were kicking off their training camp in late July, Bowles mentioned five possible candidates for the slot corner job but also said every defensive back on the 90-man roster could get consideration if necessary. However, for the majority of camp so far, it is Izien and third-year cornerback Dee Delaney who have taken the most snaps at that spot with the first-team defense.

In fact, Izien's work at slot corner has been impressive enough that the coaching staff has elected to let him focus solely on that job even though they intend to let him work as a safety, as well. Izien played in the slot during his senior season at Rutgers but previously had worked as a strong safety for three seasons.

"Right now, he is working at nickel," said Bowles. "We will try to give him one at a time. Two of them at once is awfully hard to learn, so we are letting him learn the nickel part and then we will back up and put him at safety."

On Saturday, Buccaneer legend Rondé Barber will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an honor based in large part on how he helped redefine the job of a nickel corner, a position that has since grown greatly in significance based on offensive personnel tendencies. Barber was not only excellent in coverage but also was a strong blitzer and a very good and willing tackler. Izien knows what the job description looks like in today's NFL.

"You need someone instinctual, obviously," he said. "You need someone able to cover and be able to blitz at the same time. But it also comes down to disguises and how you can play the quarterback pre-snap.

Izien's scouting report coming into this year's draft emphasized his muscular frame, explosiveness, sudden acceleration, feistiness in coverage and a leaping ability that allowed him to play with more length than his size would suggest. His play so far in training camp has backed those notions up.

"He is tough, he is quick, he is a heady football player," said Bowles. "I like the way that he flies around out there. In pads, we know he can tackle and blitz. We know he is quick enough to cover. As he picks up the system, it will be great to see what he does going forward. We really like the guy."

Izien isn't getting ahead of himself, knowing there is a lot of work that still lies ahead and a lot of competition for the slot job. Bowles made a point after practice on Friday to say observers shouldn't read too much into who is getting first, second or third-team snaps at this point in camp. Still, Izien feels as if his first NFL training camp has gone pretty well so far. Bowles' defensive schemes are not necessarily easy for a newcomer to absorb because it is so 'multiple,' but Izien says it's possible if you're willing to devote the right amount of time to learn it. He knows that being sharp mentally will likely be the difference-maker for him as he tries to carve out a role on that defense.

"I'm detail-oriented," he said. "I'm really focused on knowing my job. You can see the athletic part of it – that comes easy for me but everybody's good in this league so you have to have the mental part down, for sure."

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp practice on 8/3/23.

Related Content

Latest Headlines