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Bucs CB Ryan Smith happy to be back playing 'natural position'

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-year cornerback Ryan Smith has enjoyed some extra first-team reps in OTA practices recently, thanks to absences by starters Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes. Those reps at cornerback have been invaluable after spending his entire rookie season at safety and having to play catch-up.

"I was pretty happy. It's my natural position," Smith said of the move. "I don't have to think as much. ... I wasn't mad that I was at safety -- it's just that corner is where I'm more comfortable at. Like I said, though, I’ll play anything."

Smith spent four years at cornerback at North Carolina Central, but the Bucs wanted to see how his ball skills, 4.47 speed and tackling ability could translate to safety. He had seven interceptions, 31 pass breakups and 168 solo tackles in college.

He never played a defensive snap in 2016 though, contributing solely on special teams as the Bucs' primary kickoff returner and in coverage on punt returns.

"I want to take on every role possible," Smith said. "Anything helps [to be] on the field. It was fun playing gunner."

The Bucs were also much thinner at safety last year. When they opted not to re-sign Alterraun Verner, their third cornerback last season, it created a chance for Smith to compete for his spot. Javien Elliott and Jude Adjei-Barimah are also in the mix and competing at nickelback, along with Robert McClain and special teams standout Josh Robinson.

"Ryan is playing all outside as our third corner right now and he's getting better. He's getting a lot of reps," said head coach Dirk Koetter. "We’re happy with [him]. He just needs to catch up in experience."

There is also more depth at safety now. The Bucs selected Justin Evans in the second round of this year's NFL draft. They also signed J.J. Wilcox and re-signed Chris Conte in free agency, allowing Smith to get back to squaring off against speedy receivers.

"It's fun. I love to compete," Smith said. "We have dogs at receiver. Everybody's fast running their routes. I'm just getting better and better and better. My time's gonna come."

He relishes the opportunity to compete against guys like DeSean Jackson, one of the fastest players in the league.

"Man, that guy is fast man," Smith said, laughing. "It's testing my talent to see where I'm at. Every play is competition. Everybody is good on our team. It's good work."