Free agency has yet to open, but teams are already making changes to their rosters. This is the time of year in which franchises decide to cut players, and one of those very moves was recently made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs disposed of one of their prized free agent acquisitions from 2014’s offseason. Tampa drafted Vernon Hargreaves in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and intends on starting him alongside Brent Grimes for the foreseeable future. As a result, Alterraun Verner became dispensable.
Why should the Bills consider him?
First, the obvious: he is familiar with the defense. He has experience playing under new Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Frazier was the DC in Tampa in 2014 and 2015, which will be one of the reasons that GM Doug Whaley may pick up the phone and gauge what kind of contract Verner is looking for.
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He should only expect a modest contract, considering he only has nine starts over the last two seasons, seasons in which he allowed four touchdowns, while amassing only two interceptions and seven pass deflections. When new coaches take over, they typically like to bring in guys that know the system, making the transition much easier. I know that type of thinking strikes a nerve, thanks to Rex Ryan, but these types of moves aren’t abnormal in the NFL.
Second, what Verner does well fits the scheme. He is really good in off coverage, whether he is aligned outside, heads up, or inside. Verner is better as a defender that utilizes a bail technique, or ‘Saban shuffle’, as opposed to the backpedal. The bail technique is one that is heavily utilized in McDermott’s scheme, and it is a skill that is very difficult to master. Being in off coverage helps the DB in several ways, and it allows him to utilize his mental processing skills to make plays.
In man coverage, it gives him time to read the route by analyzing the drive, release, and direction at the top of the route. In zone coverage, he is reading the wide receiver through to the QB, otherwise known as ‘zone eyes’. This approach helps him not only read the receiver’s route, but also how it corresponds with the depth of the QB’s drop. His ability to use his hands to disrupt usually doesn’t occur at the line of scrimmage. Typically, it is in off coverage, within the five yard contact box where he usually ‘catches’ WRs (Video above) or strikes with them and is able to redirect.
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Verner reads routes and combos really well in off coverage, and he is able to jump routes. He is able to plant and drive utilizing sound angles. He read quick routes well, including slants, speed outs etc., something that you saw in the video. This allows him to make plays on the ball, which is something that he has done expertly over the course of his career. In all, he has registered 15 interceptions and 49 pass deflections. How competitive a player is at the catch point is overlooked by many. In that regard, Verner fights at the catch point. If the receiver catches it, Verner is often right there, attempting to rip the ball out.
Those are some of his strengths, things that got him that lucrative contract with Tampa. What are his weaknesses? Most of his issues are related to his average overall athletic ability, including his straight line speed. However, it is right in line with the corners that have played in this system, in the 4.5s.
Usually this deficiency flashes down the field. He doesn’t have the speed to stay with speedsters, and even when in off coverage he can be put out of phase and taken advantage of.
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He is not a guy that you can line up in man coverage with expectations of him being able to mirror receivers to the intermediate and deep areas of the field. He lacks the agility to carry out those kinds of responsibilities.
Depending on the what kind of compensation he is expecting, I think he fits the Bills’ new scheme really well. It is a scheme that utilizes a lot of zone concepts from off coverage. The coaches teach the ‘Saban Shuffle’, allowing defenders who lack the elite agility to plant and drive with efficiency. McDermott puts his corners in that coverage to not only mask their straight line speed or agility issues, but also to keep the receivers in front of them, reducing the likelihood of big plays. Pairing a corner that is good in off coverage and can process route combinations quickly with the multitude of pressure packages that McDermott likes to run would be a wise decision. In this scheme, Verner could still make plays on the ball, hence providing a tremendous value to a team that is needy at the position.