In one of the more closely contested battles of the Bucs’ preseason, veteran Robert McClain will open the season as the starting nickel defensive back, coach Dirk Koetter said Friday night on his weekly radio show.
McClain, who played for the Falcons when Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith were in Atlanta, beat out second-year pro Javien Elliott, who finished last season as the nickel after Jude Adjei-Barimah’s four-game suspension. McClain, 29, started six games with the Panthers last season and brings more experience to the position.
“We had a big battle at our nickel corner, and Robert McClain is going to get the start for us,” Koetter said on his show. “Shoot, I’ve been with Robert for a long time. He played for us in Atlanta, always one of my favorite players. … Bobby’s one of those guys that’s always going to give you everything he has.”
The Bucs may not line up in nickel defense as much Sunday — the Bears have injuries at receiver and if they’re not lining up often in three-receiver sets, the Bucs are likely to stay in their base defense, where rookie strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith is on the field instead of a fifth defensive back.
The Bucs have an interesting call to make if they decide to have one of their 10 defensive backs inactive — if Ryan Smith is the top backup to starting cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves and T.J. Ward is ready to join Keith Tandy and Chris Conte at safety, that leaves either Elliott or rookie safety Justin Evans as the options, since Josh Robinson is a special-teams captain who rarely plays on defense.
Koetter also addressed the possibility of…
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