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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Zyon McCollum Working to Harness "Controllable Speed"

Buccaneers second-year CB Zyon McCollum has turbo-charged legs but he's learning how to use his speed in a way that creates big plays and avoids big mistakes


Last spring, Sam Houston cornerback Zyon McCollum planted himself firmly on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' radar screen when he put up nearly unprecedented testing numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine. Just the fifth cornerback since 2003 to earn a 99 "athleticism score" – the maximum score attainable – McCollum practically ran, jumped and cut right out of Lucas Oil Stadium. Assuming other teams were just as interested as the third day of the draft progressed, the Buccaneers flipped a 2023 fourth-round pick to Jacksonville to jump back into the fifth round and select the 6-2, 199-pound defender.

Among McCollum's gaudy Combine numbers was a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. And sure enough, that speed plus his size made him an instant hit as a gunner on the Bucs' special teams coverage units as a rookie. Now, as McCollum seeks to become more of a factor on defense in his second speed, he is trying to figure out exactly how to make that speed work in that phase of the game. Interestingly, one of the teammates who is providing him with the right blueprint is one of the men he's responsible for covering every day in practice.

"I'm fast, so I like to go fast," said McCollum. "But in this game, you've got to be able to have controllable speed. You see a lot of guys, like Chris Godwin, [who] aren't the fastest guys but somehow find ways to create separation. That's just because guys like that know how to utilize their speed and change it up. For me, I'm still learning how to control my speed, completely and all the way, and once we get that down, we're working."

McCollum's speed came in handy in the Buccaneers' preseason opener Pittsburgh on Friday night when he stayed step-for-step with Steelers wideout Cody White on a fly down the left sideline early in the second quarter. McCollum anticipated the throw and got his head around in time to make an impressive interception. However, that same innate swiftness worked against him on a missed tackle that helped turn a short pass to wide receiver George Pickens in a 33-yard touchdown a quarter earlier.

"[He has to be] better at tackling – he leaves his feet too early, we [have] discussed that, he understands that," said Head Coach Todd Bowles after the game. "[The] interception was outstanding, but the touchdown run he missed, and he missed another tackle there. He's lunging too much, he [has] to gather, and we have to work on tackling."

McCollum is fully committed to that task and knows exactly what he needs to do to improve. A lot of it has to do with using his feet in other ways than simply moving them as fast as he can.

"Tackling, that's big – staying on my feet for as long as possible," he said. "I've got to run my body into guys, wrap them up, continue to drive my feet and it's just something I've got to work on every day in practice until it's perfected. Like I said before, if I'm missing a tackle in a game, at any point in my career, it means that I need to work on it. So at this point, as long as I had a missed tackle in the game, it's something I'm just going to continue to work on."

McCollum has had an intriguing second training camp and several coaches have suggested that he is poised for a big second-year leap. When a young player does make that leap, it's often due to a better understanding of his team's schemes and what opposing offenses will try to do against it. McCollum cites frequent meetings with Bowles and a lot of tips from veteran corners Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean in helping him slow down the game.

"Just being able to settle down, slow down mentally, has allowed me to play faster physically," he said. "Understanding this defense and the ins and outs – not just my position, but the positions that are around me – has allowed me to be able to use them more than I ever have before. That alone has made me comfortable."

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