TAMPA – The Bucs opened up the preseason on Friday with a 23-12 loss to the Bengals. Here a four takeaways form the
Thanks to a late-season rally, the Bucs finished the 2016 season ranked fourth in the league in interceptions with 17. They might have finished first had rookie Vernon Hargreaves played the way he’s truly capable.
Hargreaves came out the University of Florida last year with a reputation for being a ball hawk but he never really looked like one with the Bucs intercepting just one pass.
That prompted the Bucs to strongly encourage Hargreaves to play more aggressively this year and Hargreaves did that in the opener, picking off a pass to finish off the Bengals first drive.
Hargreaves played a lot tighter to the ball in the preseason opener on Friday, foiling another pass on third down by forcing a high throw that fell incomplete.
If Hargreaves keeps playing with the confidence and aggression that he displayed against the Bengals, opposing quarterbacks won’t feel know where to go with the ball, which is good for the Bucs.
The Bucs didn’t draft defensive end Noah Spence in the second round last year to be a sub-package part-time player but it’s starting to look like that’s what he’s going to be.
At 6-foot-2, 251 pounds, Spence just isn’t stout enough to anchor the edge against the run, but he has the speed and athleticism to be a playmaker in all situations.
Spence (shown above) proved that again in the opener, knifing through the line to take down Bengals running back Jeremy Hill for a 2-yard loss in the first quarter and getting to backup quarterback A.J. McCarron in the second.
Spence wound up being called for a roughing the passer penalty on the play against McCarron when his right hand came down on McCarron’s helmet but his pass rush ability is undeniable.
Spence may not play every down, but even as a situational pass rusher he’ll get enough work to be an impact player and could easily lead the Bucs in sacks.
Roberto Aguayo appeared to be kicking with a lot more confidence during training camp workouts, but he still hasn’t found the consistency the Bucs are looking for and that issue extended into Friday’s game.
Aguayo made his first field goal try, a 20-yarder at the end of the Bucs first drive, but he missed an extra point as well as a 47-yard field goal try at the end of the game.
The Bucs are already annoyed that neither Aguayo nor challenger Nick Folk has moved ahead of the other in the battle for the kicker’s job and Aguayo didn’t help his chances of winning the job in this game.
Folk may have taken a slight lead in this race by default on Friday when he hit a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter, but there’s a growing belief that the winner of this job isn’t even on the Bucs roster right now.
Folk has been a very good kicker in the league for several years but he’s been as inconsistent as Aguayo in camp, so the kicking job is still too close to call.
The Bucs have added a lot big bodies to the middle of their defense in recent months in an effort be more stout against the run but all that extra girth didn’t make much of a difference on Friday.
The interior of the Bucs D-line struggled to keep the running game in check all night, and that’s an area that’s going to have to get better in a hurry if the Bucs are going to stay competitive.
It’s possible that newcomers such as Chris Baker and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu are simply struggling with the same communication aspects of the scheme that slowed this unit a year ago, but the issue seems a bit deeper.
Gap control was a big problem up front and the Bengals took advantage, gashing the Bucs line for several sizeable gains. The good news is that gap control is easily fixed. There’s little doubt, though, that it already needs fixing.
Of all the rookies, safety Justin Evans might have looked the best. Evans still has to clean up some issues with his tackling but he was around the ball a lot and made five tackles.
Kendell Beckwith had five tackle as well and did a good job against the run as did Riley Bullough, who became a bit of a star when he was featured on Hard Knocks this week.
Chris Godwin didn’t get a lot of opportunities but he did catch one pass for 14 yards and Jeremy McNichols made some noise with the few touches he had, including breaking off a 14-yard run,