Every year when preseason rolls around, I say the exact same thing: “Welcome to the preseason where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” It’s the opening line from the improv comedy TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? This doesn’t mean that the preseason is altogether pointless, only that you have to look at it in a different light. The fact that the Buccaneers are 1-3 this preseason means nothing to me. Every game was important for different reasons. Right now, I’m going to take a look at the preseason in retrospect. Let’s take a look at what actually meant something in a month of games where the points didn’t matter. Unfortunately, in some of those games the Bucs (especially the offensive line) looked a little like this.
Week One: Sen’Derrick Marks and Friends
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
I elaborated more on this in my previous article on how offended I was by the play of the offensive line. The point of this first game was to get a rhythm. As much as they tried to learn in training camp, this was the first chance for everyone to really work as a team. I hoped to see the players showing what they could, albeit shakily. In reality, we watched Sen’Derrick Marks make mincemeat of the o-line. As a result, the offense was inconsistent and ineffective. Let’s face it, this was just bad. As Steve White said, “Jamon Meredith just pissed down his pants in the first game. He looked like a rookie out there, a fish out of water. And Sen’Derrick Marks looked like he’d be an all-pro all-NFL guy going against Meredith and I’m sure he wants to play him every game.”
Week Two: Baby Steps Ain’t Gonna Cut It
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins
Our biggest problem when we faced off against the Dolphins was, yet again, the offensive line. It wasn’t quite as bad as the trainwreck of week one, but it certainly wasn’t good. There were a few flashes of brilliance, but after this game my mind immediately jumped to the important preseason game three. In game two, you can still give the legitimate excuse that everyone is getting used to things. It takes time for a team, especially one that’s so newly formed and unfamiliar, to gel together. One clear positive of this game was that penalties decreased. The Bucs committed 11 penalties in week one, but only six in week two. This performance still wasn’t enough, and the second half of preseason needed to be much better.
Week Three: That’s More Like It
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Buffalo Bills
In Buffalo, the Buccaneers decided to let us breathe and showed us the kind of team they could be. Talk all you want about it being preseason and the Bills being horrible, but the first half of this game was exactly the kind of play I’d been hoping to see. Highlights included Doug Martin’s touchdown run, Josh McCown’s touchdown pass to Mike Evans, a forced fumble by Lavonte David, a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Clinton McDonald and an interception by Dashon Goldson. And that was just the first half. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the Tampa Bay Bucs everyone is excited about. The first half wasn’t without mistakes, including an interception thrown by McCown, but it was a wonderful step in the right direction. On top of that, the Bucs committed only two penalties in the first half and totaled only five for this entire game. That’s wonderful news when you consider that the Buccaneers were third in the league in 2013 for most penalties per game.
Week Four: The Anti-Prom
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Washington Redskins
If week three was Tampa’s preseason prom, then week four was the anti-prom. All the cool kids already had their night, and the other kids decided to have their own little event. Starters such as Gerald McCoy got to watch comfortably from the sidelines as the players lower on the depth chart fought tooth and nail to prove they deserved a spot on the team. I think my favorite part of this game was the interview with Jason Licht. I’m not sure if that says more about my attention span, the entertainment value of the game, or my continued love of Jason Licht as the Bucs General Manager. However, the game did have value. On the upside, the not-so-cool kids only committed two penalties in the entire game. Then again, they also let Washington’s no-so-cool kids trounce them. This game solidified some of the cuts that were likely already in the works, and validated some already present worries about the depth at some positions.
Final Roster: Some of You Aren’t Invited
After the final game wrapped up, it was time for what Lovie Smith called one of the hardest parts of the year. When preseason starts, the team consists of 90 players. When the regular season starts, the roster holds 53 players and practice squad of 10 players. In order to better learn the numbers of those on the roster, I actually made flashcards for our entire roster early in the preseason. Yesterday, I went through and removed every card for someone who had been cut or was no longer on the team. There was something about the thickness and weight of that stack that made the realization of how many people lost their jobs sink in. I can only imagine how tough it is to have that conversation with so many, but it is a necessary evil. As Derek has mentioned, tough roster decisions are actually a good problem to have in the grand scheme of things.
A lot of the cuts that came out were expected in many ways. Names like quarterback Alex Tanney and those who had clearly been brought in as camp bodies weren’t expected to be sticking around. One of the big surprises was the release of consistent kicker Connor Barth. On the surface, it was a shock. From a business perspective, it made perfect sense. Barth had a salary that reflected his experience and ability. On the other hand, Patrick Murray showed he could perform, has versatility, and costs much less. Barth is a trustworthy player, and I hope he finds a new home soon, but the decision to go with Murray makes sense for the team.
The cut of Solomon Patton surprised me, but I am glad to know he’ll now be on the practice squad. Jeff Demps showed he didn’t have much more than speed, but it’s smart for the Bucs to hold onto him via the practice squad. If he can increase his skill at his position, he will be lethal in the future. Jamon Meredith’s atrocious play as a guard cost him his job. Big moves to bring in the awesomeness of Logan Mankins and the potential of Rishaw Johnson have helped round out a roster that looks a lot more polished than it did when the preseason began.
At the end of every episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? there’s a hoedown featuring that show’s “losers.” At 1-3, the Buccaneers are the “losers” on the scoreboard this preseason. Remember though, the points don’t matter. This record means as much as losing on that show does — nothing. With that in mind, let’s sit back and relax for a moment before the regular season gets rolling. Enjoy a few examples of a hoedown in the videos below, and look forward to the real thing coming up against Carolina. Football season is upon us, and I’m as excited as can be. Ready the cannons my friends, it’s going to be a raucous ride.