TAMPA, FL – Ordinarily, a line-item preview of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals would be much needed. Alas, it’s the first game of the preseason, so there should only be one concern as it pertains to this evening, and that’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers themselves. The name-of-the-game at this stage of camp is to simply keep everyone healthy during live action, but the Bucs are already up against some precarious obstacles in the injury department before even leaving Florida. More on that momentarily. Since the Bucs are the sole focus of our attention for tonight, we go through each position group and what we are looking for when “toe meets leather” as Gene Deckerhoff would so eloquently say.
Starting with the offensive side of the ball, we look at the (backup) QB situation. We know that Head Coach Dirk Koetter (per his Wednesday post-practice sound) that Jameis Winston and the starters will play approximately a quarter of ball. All things go accordingly, we expect to see an amped-up, yet focused Jameis. What happens when it’s time for Winston to put on his baseball cap and watch from the sidelines? We expect that the former Tulane standout Ryan Griffin to get plenty of reps at the spot. As Koetter alluded to on Wednesday, Griffin knows that #2 spot his to lose, or at least he knows he’s not the number three. All Bucs fans should simply want from him tonight is to protect the football and hold proper command of his offense when he’s in the game. Cincinnati likes to bring pressure from multiple exotic schemes, but it doesn’t need to be rocket science.
Doug Martin is allowed to play in the preseason, and by all accounts he’s had a very solid camp thus far. What happens with spots two and three? We expect to see plenty of Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Simms III and Peyton Barber in this contest. We’ve already highlighted the fact that the Bucs were painfully unproductive on the ground last season, and if they want to get to the playoffs this season, that things will have to change somewhat drastically at least from an efficiency standpoint. Tonight, we want to see every of these guys run like their jobs are on the line and start the *entire* season with that kind of momentum.
Center Ali Marpet has been out the last couple of practices with an injury, which if this were the regular season would be a HUGE deal. Since it isn’t, we won’t concern ourselves with that. While any additional injuries would not be ideal, we will be looking at the bigger picture for the OL, and that’s helping their QB pick-up and properly stop those blitzes from exotic looks were referencing earlier in the QB section. It’s also pretty obvious that we will be watching the performance in the run game as well.
Staying in the trenches, but flipping sides, we start with the defensive line. Simply put–can someone get to the QB, please? And if the front-four cannot get to him, can they at least get into that backfield and create pressure, perhaps knock the QB down? Any kind of pressure that disrupts the flow of the offense will be taken with open arms. If the defensive line gets off, that opens up the flood gates for that highly-touted linebacker corps, as well as the DB’s that bring exceptional athleticism. Simply put, it all HAS to start up front regardless of what string is in there. In a perfect world though, it happens with the starters until they come out.
As mentioned, the linebackers (in our minds the best unit on the defense) should be fine (and fun) to watch this evening regardless of who’s in there. If were to split hairs and find something that we are interested to observe this evening, it’s how are they going to perform against the TE’s and RB’s in man-to-man coverage. While Devante Bond is listed as the starter at strong side LB, we get the feeling that the rookie from LSU, Kendell Beckwith could be emerging as someone that could get the job done right out of the gate.
We mentioned in the open about some “obstacles” in the injury department. Well, not one, but TWO corners went down over the past two days with starter Brent Grimes leaving with a deep laceration on his shin, which will obviously keep him out for tonight’s contest. Perhaps the biggest impact on this corps comes in the form of Jude Adjei-Barimah’s Patellar fracture, a non-contact injury sustained that is likely going to keep him out for many months. To pour salt in the open wound, it’s the same injury that sidelined him last season. It’s a very big deal given the fact he was listed as Vernon Hargreaves III’s backup and was having a fantastic camp as well. Now, we watch, and we wait. Likely candidates to fill the void from a depth perspective start with Ryan Smith, plus Javien Elliot and Robert McClain. Needless to say, this is a developing situation and that’s the unit we will be paying the most attention towards.
At the very backend are the safeties and with Chris Conte and Keith Tandy already established, we will be watching to see Justin Evans, JJ Wilcox and Josh Robinson (the 6th year man from UCF) to see if they can make Bucs fans breathe a little easier from a depth standpoint. While we know there’s some pretty talented guys in this group, we want to see who will separate themselves (if possible) from playmakers and “just another guy” at the position. And last, but certainly not least, we will be watching the kicking situation unfold very closely. While the kicking is obviously of most importance, we will also be interested to see if the return game can go produce ANY sort of field position, or perhaps, just maybe, a house-call on a kickoff or a punt return.