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Raiders to present toughest challenge to Buccaneers corners

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary has been a work in progress all season. Under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the Buccaneers have seen mixed results in coverage although they have gotten better. The Buccaneers have not allowed a 300-yard passer in four straight weeks nor have they allowed a 100-yard game to a wide receiver this season (tight end Greg Olsen did accomplish the feat however).

Still, after facing some of the league’s top receivers this season – Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin – the Buccaneers secondary will be on notice this week when it tackles perhaps the best receiving duo in the NFL in Oakland Raiders tandem of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.

The two pass catchers have combined to grab 79 passes for 1,075 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Cooper has 40 catches for 614 yards and a touchdown, while Crabtree has 39 catches for 461 yards and six touchdowns.

“Those two receivers Cooper and Crabtree, they’re going to be a handful,” Smith said. “They’ve done a good job. (Quarterback Derek) Carr gets the ball out of his hands. He has a quick release. He does a good job with his eyes moving defenders. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

The Buccaneers have had success this season playing a lot of man-to-man in the secondary. If they go this route against the Raiders, the challenge will fall on cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves III and Jude Adjei-Barimah.

The secondary allowed just one pass completion of more than 20 yards in its last outing against San Francisco. This may be the unit’s toughest test, however. Cooper and Crabtree are averaging a combined 11.2 receptions and 153.6 yards per game in 2016.

“They’re a great group of receivers and Crabtree and Coop,” Hargreaves said. “Obviously I’ve seen Coop before in college. That was actually my first time following somebody, so I have a lot of respect for him. I know him. So it’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be exciting to go against those guys and see where we really are.”

Hargreaves is looking forward to it. Cooper got the best of Hargreaves when Alabama played and beat Florida in 2014. The receiver had 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns, not all on Hargreaves but quite a few. The Buccaneers’ rookie is looking forward to the rematch.

“That’s the first time I played against somebody that was better than me, that I felt like was significantly better than me and he knows that,” Hargreaves said. “And he knows we’re going to get after it and I’m excited to see him again.”

Searching for a veteran wide receiver?

NFL analyst Jason La Canfora tweeted Wednesday the Buccaneers are shopping for a veteran wide receiver and would be willing to trade one of their corners and or a move a draft pick to make a deal happen.

With wide receiver Vincent Jackson on injured reserve, the Buccaneers are once again thin and young at the receiver spot. The club does have Cecil Shorts III, who in his first game back from a hamstring injury didn’t have any targets vs. San Francisco. The Buccaneers are also hoping to get receiver Louis Murphy back. Murphy, who is in his second of three weeks in the practice phase of the league’s physically unable to perform list, suffered an undisclosed setback in his recovery last week so the timetable for his return is unknown.

The two names that keep popping up concerning the Buccaneers are Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery and San Francisco’s Torrey Smith. Jeffery is in the last year of his contract and would garner a compensatory pick anyway so his departure is more unlikely. Tampa Bay got a first-hand look at Smith when the teams met last week. Smith had two targets in 56 snaps and finished with one catch for 17 yards.

The Buccaneers are deep at cornerback. Former Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner was relegated to 15 special teams snaps Sunday, while former second-round pick Johnthan Banks was inactive and hasn’t played a defensive snap all season.

Verner has one year remaining that will pay him $6.5 million in 2017 which could make him unattractive for a trade, while Banks will be a free agent next season.

The trade deadline is Tuesday.

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