During the three-day mini-camp that capped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason training program earlier this month, we pointed out a few minor changes to the team's roster. These weren't player additions or subtractions but rather little tweaks to the information that followed a few players' names. They were changes as minor as a letter or two on paper but ones that were potentially quite significant on the field.
For instance, a number of the players vying for jobs in the Buccaneers' secondary – most notably well-heeled veteran Ronde Barber – had seen their position designation change from either "CB" or "S" to "DB." In other words, these players were now being referred to by the more open-ended description of "defensive back," rather than specifically "cornerback" or "safety."
Rookie Keith Tandy was one of these new "DBs."
The Buccaneers drafted Tandy in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft back in April, making him the 174th player selected overall. The West Virginia product was a cornerback, to be sure, but quite a few scouting reports suggested the solidly-built, 5-10 and 200-pound defender could be a fit at safety in the NFL as well. Tampa Bay certainly has experience with that conversion, having used a fourth-round pick on Syracuse cornerback Tanard Jackson in 2007 and immediately turning him into a very effective safety.
Jackson practiced at safety during the 2007 Senior Bowl (under the tutelage of the Bucs' coaching staff) and was drafted specifically to play that position. That's not the case with Tandy; he's still considered a very strong candidate to help at cornerback this year and beyond. In his case, it's simply a matter of that he can help the secondary in a variety of ways, something that is proving quite valuable to Greg Schiano and the Bucs' new staff.
In that most recent mini-camp, Tandy saw a lot more action at safety, after starting the offseason at cornerback, and Schiano was impressed with what he saw.
"He got, I think, probably the last five workouts, where we split them, played a little safety, played a little corner," said the coach. "I really like the job he's doing. He's a very sharp football player, mentally. He's played nickel, dime, safety and corner; he's played all four, and done it with some efficiency. Certainly not perfect, but some efficiency. For a young guy to be able to do that…like I tell them all, 'Make yourself as irreplaceable as you can.' He's taken that to heart."
Tandy has a head start on being versatile, having roamed all over West Virginia's secondary for the last few years. Moreover, the transition to the NFL hasn't been too difficult so far because he's recognized a lot of what he's seen from his former rival Big East coach.
"It's similar to what I ran in college," said Tandy of the defense being implemented by Schiano and Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan. "Basically, I'm getting the terminology down and the technique, but a lot of it relates back to my college days."
There are some differences between the Mountaineers' schemes and what Schiano and Sullivan are implementing. However, that sharp football mind of Tandy's that Schiano mentioned has been able to mix and match what he's seeing with the experience he brings to the situation. For instance, when Tandy played cornerback for the Mountaineers and the tight end was left uncovered, without a receiver split wide to that side, he would drop back deep into coverage like a safety. He also quite specifically played the safety position during some passing situations, and that's another level of experience he can bring to bear.
A cornerback in the Bucs' new defense may not react the same way to that aforementioned situation, which is why Tandy spent the offseason actively learning the responsibilities of several positions in his new team's secondary. But there's no doubting that his depth of experience, not to mention the versatile skill set he brings to the game, has the Bucs' contemplating several ways in which he may help their defense.
"In college I actually played a little bit of corner, a little bit of safety in pass situations," said Tandy. "I've shown on film that I can tackle, and I've shown an ability to learn most positions, so hopefully that will help me out."