In advance of their preseason opener on Thursday night in South Florida, the Buccaneers have officially released their first depth chart for 2018.
And there are not many surprises.
Most notably, and to get it out of the way, Jameis Winston is actually listed as the first-team quarterback on the depth chart. However, veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick (above) has been taking most of the first-team reps during training camp practices. And, it’s believed that he will start the game Thursday night and play most if not all of the first quarter.
The belief is that Winston will play after that in the second quarter against Miami. Third string QB Ryan Griffin may play a lot of the second half of game one.
Also in the backfield, the Bucs do list Peyton Barber as their top back and he has been the lead back for most of the first-team reps in training camp. Interestingly, veteran Jacquizz Rodgers is listed second on the depth chart and USC rookie Ronald Jones is third. However, expect Jones to get a lot of playing time starting with game one on Thursday.
The Bucs listed two starting receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson and have Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries listed as their second-team backups. But, expect Godwin and Humprhies to see lots of time with three receiver sets, etc.
The defense does not have many surprises in terms of the depth chart.
Veterans Gerald McCoy, Jason Pierre-Paul ,Vinny Curry and Beau Allen are the first team defensive line. Meanwhile, Buccaneer young veterans Noah Spence and William Gholston are backups at defensive end. And first round pick Vita Vea is listed as second on the depth chart at defensive tackle. This is even though, he will not play Thursday after injuring his calf last week.
With linebacker Kendell Beckwith still nursing and rehabbing his broken ankle from the offseason, Adarius Taylor slides into his starting spot alongside Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David.
Third year and former first-round pick defensive back Vernon Hargreaves is listed as a starter next to Pro Bowl veteran Brent Grimes. However, the Bucs have been using Ryan Smith with the first-team and also at times rookie MJ Stewart out of North Carolina. Tampa Bay also wants to take a good look at Auburn’s rookie Carlton Davis and how he will look Thursday and beyond.
And it’s the case is with most NFL teams with their starters: they will not play much into the second quarter and most of the second-teamers will be done by early in the third quarter of game one.
Bucs have no reason to doubt this Thomas Sunday
The Bucs prepare for the New Orleans Saints to come to town Sunday and they know that the top defensive priority will be trying to contain the league’s most productive receiver, Michael Thomas.
Thomas is currently leading every important reception and yardage category and is even on pace to break a couple of NFL records. And with Drew Brees back from his thumb injury, Todd Bowles’ Tampa Bay defense had better be up to the challenge.
Thomas currently sits atop NFL receivers in receptions (86), yards with 1,027 and yards-per-game 114.1. He also leads with 52 receptions for first downs and has been targeted 10 or more times in seven of New Orleans’ nine games. That also leads the league.
Needless to say, the Saints will try to establish him at Raymond James Stadium early and Brees will look to go to him ,especially on third down and in the Red Zone, often.
As for the Buccaneers secondary, they’ve already had a shake up earlier this week by releasing former #1 pick Vernon Hargreaves. It should be pointed out that Hargreaves was the guy that was primarily trying to cover Thomas, unsuccessfully, in the first matchup in New Orleans last month.
Thomas had 11 catches (photo above) for a season-high 182 yards and season-high 16.5 average per catch with two scores all mostly against Hargreaves in New Orleans 31 – 24 victory. Plus, it should be pointed out that those throws were also from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who finished with four touchdowns on the day in the divisional win.
Now, because of Hargreaves’ release, it looks as though the Buccaneers may be putting one of their two rookie defensive backs, Jamel Dean or Sean Murphy-Bunting on Thomas for at least some of this game.
Dean was exposed in the lost to Seattle, where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks pass attack picked on him for big play after big play in Seattle’s 40 – 34 overtime win. However, the rookie out of Auburn redeemed himself last week with a couple of pass breakups and a crucial fourth-quarter interception of Kyler Murray in the Bucs 30 – 27 come-from-behind win over the Cardinals.
Back to the Saints. They are smarting off of a 26 – 9 loss to Atlanta, where they were kept out of the end zone by the Falcons defensive scheme. Part of their success was with six sacks of Drew Brees and mixing up their coverage of Thomas and the rest of the receivers. Now, Thomas still got 13 catches for 152 yards, but New Orleans could not figure out Atlanta, especially after getting into plus territory.
You would have to think that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have studied what the Falcons did and are ready for whatever the Bucs may be trying to throw at the Saints.
Critically, the pass rush and harassing of Brees is something to Tampa Bay will look to utilize with the likes of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul getting after him. Pierre-Paul did not play in the first matchup, while still recovering from a fractured neck. But, he has already been a force in his first three games back this season.
Barrett leads the NFL currently with the 11.5 sacks through 9 games.
Back to the Pro Bowler Thomas. The Buccaneers may choose to try to double-team him with some safety help to neutralize his downfield effectiveness.
Still, it may be the best strategy to let Thomas get an occasional catch or two, but try to contain the other receivers and harass Breezy enough, just like the Falcons did last Sunday in the Superdome, to get yourself a victory.
Bucs DT Vita Vea got props from NFL Network Wednesday
The Buccaneers got a much-needed win on Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals and Wednesday, the NFL Network wanted to specifically point out the play of defensive tackle Vita Vea.
On the very popular “Good Morning Football” show, co-host Peter Schrager, devoted an entire two minute segments to Vea’s athletic exploits:
Oh, and stay for the Vea high school running back highlights. pic.twitter.com/HqcQdj8spj
— GMFB (@gmfb) November 13, 2019
The massive defensive tackle definitely showcased his offensive athleticism, as a blocker on that key goaline situation, where the Bucs eventually got the game-winning touchdown from running back Peyton Barber.
As Schrager showed, Vea actually got not just one, but three Cardinals blocked or slowed up, to help Barber get around the left end for the clinching score. Schrager also made reference to and had highlight clips of Vea’s Northern California High School exploits, as a 255-pound running back before heading to the University of Washington.
Vea’s athleticism to compliment his size is a big reason why Bucs GM Jason Licht went ahead and drafted him with the 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft.
And while the defensive tackle doesn’t have massive stats this season, he and his linemates or a huge reason why the Buccaneers have been near the top of the NFL in yards allowed rushing this season. This would include holding Cardinals Pro bowl-caliber running back David Johnson to just 2 yards on five carries Sunday.
Vea only officially registered two tackles in the Cardinal game, but that stopped a streak where he had made at least three stops in the previous four games. He has primarily been a compliment next to Pro Bowl veteran Ndamukong Suh and helping jam the middle of the line of scrimmage week in and week out.
As for Vea on offense, coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston both made mention to the media off of Sunday’s game, that Vea is not only a capable blocker, but could also be handed the ball or potentially, even be thrown the ball if needed, in that goal line package that they displayed for the first time on Sunday.
One thing is for sure, starting with this week and the Saints, he now has to be accounted for, if and when, he’s in on offense.
New Orleans’ bigger concern is trying to get Alvin Kamara back going against the tough Bucs run D, which will be led by Vea and his fellow linemen.
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