Nobody enjoys seeing their team lose any game…EVER. But after the Bucs lost their preseason home opener to the Cleveland Browns last Friday night, I began to see quite a few negative posts and comments on social media about how “bad” the team has looked so far. The team is now 1-2 in this preseason with their last game coming on Thursday night against the Washington Redskins at home in Raymond James Stadium. However, if these disgruntled fans are expecting some kind of epiphany to happen this week, it’s not going to happen. I will tell you now that most, if not all 22 starters will be sitting this one out and possibly even some more key contributors as well. Dirk Koetter won’t be trying to win this game. He doesn’t give a shit about this game. To him, it’s a glorified practice. He’ll be concentrating more on evaluating the bubble players on this roster and staying healthy for Week 1 in Miami. That’s all he cares about right now. That’s all that matters right now.
Besides, I don’t necessarily think the Bucs have looked that bad so far. Jameis Winston has the second most passing yards (495) of all quarterbacks through 3 games (Blaine Gabbert/49ers is the leader at 496 yards) and the most of any starting quarterback by about 50 yards (Russell Wilson/Seahawks is next with 447 yards). Doug Martin has averaged 4 yards per carry behind the first team o-line. There are six players averaging more than 10 yards per catch including Evans, Brate, Godwin, Howard, Reedy and Martino. Nick Folk is 6 of 7 on field goals. The defense has only allowed 14 points per game (tied for the fifth lowest in the preseason) and have 6 sacks and 2 interceptions (both by second year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves). Is there room for improvement? Of course. Am I concerned? Absolutely not.
The offense has been moving the ball down the field almost effortlessly. Unfortunately, they have failed to capitalize in the redzone on a number of occasions. Turnovers, missed field goals, bad throws and limited play calling have all contributed to the lack of scoring. The field goal kicking dilemma seems to be sorted out. As for the missed throws, Winston has completed 68% of his throws this preseason so his accuracy is up about 10% from where it was last season. The turnovers are something that Jameis has admittedly agreed are an issue that he’s working on. Better decision making would certainly help in that area, but in all honesty I think we as Bucs fans just need to get used to it. Winston is a gunslinger. He has a strong arm and loads of confidence so he feels as though he can make any throw into any space at any time. A pretty good quarterback named Brett Favre used to play football the same way and things turned out pretty good for him in his career. As for the play calling, well it’s preseason. Dirk Koetter truly doesn’t care about winning preseason games. He’s focused on Miami…period. He’s not going to show anything in these games. He’s limiting his playbook drastically. No tips on how they’ll be using Cam Brate and O.J. Howard in the middle of the field or Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson on the outside. No complicated formations or shifts. No elaborate blocking schemes or trick plays. Just a plain old vanilla offense. Just enough to get by and get some work in because that’s what matters in the preseason.
As for the defense, there has been some let down. They’ve allowed about 110 yards rushing per game which is 18th in the league. So, the run defense does need to tighten up. They do have 6 sacks, but only 3 of them have come from defensive linemen while the other 3 were by linebackers. The pass rush definitely needs to improve, especially from the edge. However, I do think that all of this will improve once the regular d-line rotation goes into effect. Not only that but just like Dirk Koetter’s offense, Mike Smith doesn’t want to reveal his cards too early either. He’s going to play around with defensive fronts and formations. He’s going to call for more complex rush and blitz packages. He’s going to mix things up a lot more than what he’s shown in these first 3 games. Grimes hasn’t played yet. McCoy, Gholston and Alexander all sat out against Cleveland. With the exception of Jacquies Smith, the defense will be heading into Miami for Week 1 ready to rock. They’ll be fine.
Speaking of healthy, when was the last time the Buccaneers headed into the regular season THIS healthy? Usually by now, they have a couple of guys on I.R. and another few on the P.U.P. along with some other nagging injuries to a number of others. As of right now, Smith is the only one out for an extended amount of time and he was back running last week. The only other significant injury was to cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah who fractured his knee cap and was waived to open the roster spot. Backup quarterback Ryan Griffin did sustain a shoulder injury in the first preseason game against the Bengals, but he’s still listed on the active roster despite no time frame as to when he’ll return. Regardless, after sitting their starters in this final preseason game the Bucs should enter Miami at full strength and well rested.
Look, I hear ya. After so much hype and so much excitement built up this offseason, it’s somewhat disappointing not to see the Bucs beating teams 49-0 every game. But as I said before, it is preseason. It’s not about how many games you win. It’s not about how many points you score. It’s not even about the numbers. It’s about finding the best 53 players for your roster. It’s about getting to the regular season healthy. It’s about preparing for your Week 1 opponent. According to Dirk Koetter, the Bucs have accomplished that so far.
This week against the Redskins, the starters will be in street clothes and the guys that are on the bubble will be fighting for their football lives. For me, this is the best game of the preseason schedule. No worries about key players getting hurt. The guys in the game are playing their hearts out. It doesn’t matter if your team wins or loses. It’s just a bunch of football players playing football. It’s the sport at it’s purest. That said, keep your eyes on these guys on Thursday night who are battling for those last few roster spots:
QB- Despite being hurt, Ryan Griffin is probably still in the hunt for that backup QB job thanks to some unimpressive outings by Ryan Fitzpatrick who could be playing for his position this week.
RB- With Martin, Rodgers and Sims likely sitting out Peyton Barber, Jeremy McNichols and Russell Hansbrough will get a ton of snaps this week and could be playing to determine who makes the active roster and who goes to the practice squad.
TE/FB- I’m sure Cam Brate and O.J. Howard will be sitting out this week, but that still leaves Luke Stocker, Alan Cross, Antony Auclair, Tevin Westbrook and Austin Johnson battling for what will likely be three roster spots. Those guys will be getting plenty of snaps this week and this game should determine if the Bucs will be keeping a fullback on the roster or an extra tight end again.
WR- Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries will likely sit out leaving Donteea Dye, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Derel Walker, BoBo Wilson, Josh Huff and Shaq Hill as the receiving corps this week. Even though I believe Reedy has the lead right now, those seven players will be fighting for the last one or maybe two receiver spots.
OL- I’d be shocked to see any of the five starting o-linemen or possibly even reserves such as center Joe Hawley, guard Evan Smith and tackle Caleb Benenoch out there on Thursday night. That could leave Josh Allen and James Stone playing center, Mike Liedtke and Jarvis Harrison playing guard and Leonard Wester, Korren Kirven and Marquis Lucas playing tackle. There may only be one or two spots left for these guys so they could have a lot riding on this game.
DE- Robert Ayers and Will Gholston are going to sit out and possibly even Noah Spence too leaving Ryan Russell, George Johnson, Channing Ward, Mehdi Abdesmad, Sterling Bailey, Tavaris Barnes and Hendrick Ekpe to play this week. I would think that Russell, Johnson and Ward have a leg up on the competition, but this could be an opportunity for those other young players to earn a spot.
DT- Chris Baker and Gerald McCoy are definitely out this week and possibly even Clinton McDonald as well which only leaves Sealver Siliga and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu at defensive tackle since DaVonte Lambert will be out due to a wrist injury. Some of those defensive ends will likely be called upon to play inside which could show their versatility and help their case a bit.
LB- Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David will for sure be in street clothes this week. The question is, will anyone else? Have the Bucs seen enough from rookie Kendall Beckwith to sit him out? Has Adarius Glanton done enough to earn his spot on the roster and a seat on the bench this week? Will Devante Bond play? Even if none of them play, it still leaves Riley Bullough, Richie Brown, Jeff Knox, Cameron Lynch and Eric Nzeocha to play this week to see who, if any of them, can earn a roster spot.
CB- Brent Grimes has yet to play this preseason and I seriously doubt that he suits up this week and most likely neither will Vernon Hargreaves. That leaves the battle for nickel still open between Javien Elliott and Robert McClain while Ryan Smith, Josh Robinson, Cody Riggs, Jonathan Moxey, Vernon Harris and Mariel Cooper will be battling it out for the cornerback spots. Smith did not have a particularly good game against the Browns last week so he may need a strong showing this week to solidify his spot. Robinson is a special teams stud so his spot seems to be safe. The other youngsters, however, will be playing for their NFL lives.
S- Chris Conte and Keith Tandy will not be playing, but we should see a high dose of J.J. Wilcox and Justin Evans at least early on. After that, we’ll see Isaiah Johnson and Marqueston Huff for a majority of the game.
Remember, this is preseason. The most important thing is getting out of it healthy and getting prepared for the Dolphins. Period. Win or lose, this is an important game for a bunch of young players. After this game, the Bucs will be looking to trim the roster down from 90 to 53 active players. Those cuts have to be made by 4pm on Saturday afternoon. All players cut from each team will sit on waivers waiting to be picked up until noon on Sunday. After that, the players not picked up revert back to their original teams for a chance at the 10-man practice squad. The Bucs are actually able to keep 11 men on their practice squad due to the new NFL International Player Pathway program. Linebacker Eric Nzeocha will be that 11th man. He’s originally from Germany but played his college ball at the University of Wyoming. The NFC South was chosen at random to be this year’s inaugural host division.
Even if the Bucs lose this week, keep in mind that they’ve been able to accomplish something this preseason that not too many teams have been able to do…stay healthy. And if they do lose, don’t get all pissed off. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t get down on our team. IT’S PRESEASON! In the words of Aaron Rodgers “Just R-E-L-A-X!” This team will be fine for the regular season. Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!