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Three things to watch as Bucs host Lions Friday night

Florida Football Insiders

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Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the third week of preseason and the Bucs are finally at home, taking on the Lions Friday night. Tampa Bay has scored a lot of points, 56 in their two preseason wins, and looks to build on that and more.

Here are three things to watch:

Bucs Concerned at Left Tackle

With Donovan Smith suffering a knee injury earlier this week in training camp, he’s out tonight, but it’s believed that will be back for the start of the regular season. Still, who protects the blindside for QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston and solidifies themselves, as depth at that position?

Michael Liedtke took some reps at first team LT later in Tuesday and Wednesday practices, but Tampa Bay also wants to use Leonard Wester, who’s been with the Bucs the last couple of years, too. However, Wester has been hurt.

Veteran RT Demar Dotson, who’s returning from off season knee surgery, saw limited action in his preseason debut last Saturday night against the Titans. He has played some left tackle in his career before. Also, reserve Caleb Benenoch has also played some left tackle in college, etc.

We will have to wait to see what the Bucs choose to do, with starters expected to play all of the first half in this game.

Lions look for explosive plays

Detroit has a new coaching staff under former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patrica, but they have a familiar face in Matthew Stafford (above) at QB. The former Pro Bowler still has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, and he’s got some speedy targets like Golden Tate and Marvin Jones to use to loosen any defense.

And, while the Lions have slashing veteran runners Ameer Abdullah, and Theo Riddick, they have drafted another one of those types in Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, too. Also, to pound the defense in short yardage and in “goal to go” situations, Detroit signed veteran LeGarrette Blount. Blount, who began his career in Tampa Bay, has Superbowl rings from New England and last year in Philly.

It will be a challenge for the Buccaneers linebackers and secondary on Friday night.

Young Bucs receivers battle

As we wrote earlier in the week, Tampa Bay has great young depth at wide receiver. However, you cannot keep them all on the active roster.

Penn rookie Justin Watson made a huge impact, especially in the first half last week with 54 yards receiving and a leaping toe tap touchdown against the Titans.

Second year player Sergio Bailey has also impressed, including his second half touchdown catch last week.

Veteran Bernard Reedy is someone who the Bucs have used in the regular season and is a good kick returner.

Again, veterans like Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, and Chris Godwin will see most of the playing time with the starting unit Friday night. However, let’s see if one or more of those names above sneak in with the first unit for some snaps.

Watson did a week ago. Reedy has in the past.

It’s quite a battle for the last roster spot or two at wideout in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Peter King- “Bridgewater to Tampa Bay makes sense”

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Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the start of another week, and speculation about “quarterback musical chairs” in NFL free agency continues. And a prominent NFL media member believes that current Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater might leave New Orleans and he sees a possible fit with the Buccaneers.

Peter King, now with Pro Football Talk, gave analysis on numerous quarterback situations and potential free agents to be in his Monday morning column. And, while he is not reporting that the Saints will allow Bridgewater to be a free agent and/or that the Buccaneers would be his destination, he does lay out a solid case for a marriage between the two:

Obviously, the Saints must first decide what to do with veteran Hall of Famer to be, Drew Brees, who is slated to become a free agent and cannot be franchise tagged. And, Bridgewater more than acquitted himself a year ago coming off the bench, when Brees was out with a fractured thumb. That included a four-touchdown performance in October in a a win at home against Tampa Bay.

King wrote in part, these thoughts Monday,

Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay makes sense

I can hear it now: Bridgewater doesn’t have the deep arm Bruce Arians needs. I would dispute that. When Arians put Carson Palmer in the pilot’s chair in Arizona, his previous NFL yards per attempt in Cincinnati and Oakland was 7.2. Bridgewater’s career NFL yards per attempt: 7.2.

…..I noticed something with Arians this season. He defended almost every (Jameis) Winston miscue for the first three months of the season. In December, though, that changed. Tampa was 7-7 entering the last two games, both at home. In game 15, against Houston, Winston threw interceptions on two of the first five Buc snaps, and Tampa was down 10-0 after four minutes.

The Bucs lost by three. Next week: Overtime against Atlanta. First play, Winston somehow didn’t see lurker linebacker Deion Jones on tight end Cameron Brate. Pick six. “It smells as bad as it could possible smell,” Arians said after the game. The Bucs had a clear path to a redemptive 9-7 seasons, but six interceptions in the last two weeks ruined that. 

….. This is the story about Bridgewater I appreciate: After Drew Brees was lost with a hand injury in Week 2 and Bridgewater took over, Bridgewater hosted a dinner in Seattle—site of the next game—for all the offensive players, basically to say, All is not lost. We’ll be fine. Minus Brees, the Bridgewater-led Saints went 5-0.

Maybe the Bucs will think Winston deserves another chance with Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But I won’t be surprised if they go after Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill, the best free-agent quarterbacks on the market.”

Definitely a compelling argument, but, again, it still has to play out as to whether the Saints don’t re-sign Bridgewater and how, interested are the Bucs vs. other potential teams when the free agency mayhem begins?

As for Tampa Bay are obviously trying to decide what to do with their own free agent-to-be, Winston. As we wrote late last week, coach Bruce Arians remained non-committal on whether to bring back their starter of the last five seasons. This is mainly due to Winston’s inconsistent play, numerous interceptions and the fact the Bucs have had only had one winning season in his five years at the helm.

It this type of  “connect the dots” free agency talk will only continue to build until either Tampa Bay commits to Winston or free agency begins without the Bucs having signed Winston to a long term deal or given him the one year franchise tag. The clearest of indications that they’ve moved on and want a new QB.

And, everyone continues to wait on those decisions.

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NFL analyst- Bucs DE Shaq Barrett top player in free agency

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an amazing first season with the Bucs, defensive end Shaq Barrett is in line for a huge payday. And, a respected NFL analyst says Tampa Bay better be ready to pay, because he believes Barrett is the top free agent upcoming for the entire NFL.

Brian Baldinger, a former 12 year player and now analyst with the NFL Network, posted on social media Saturday evening what he loves about Barrett’s pass-rushing skills and then made his declaration:

There is no exaggerating that Barrett surpassed anyone’s expectations off of a one-year, modest free agent signing from the Broncos by Bucs GM Jason Licht. His four sack game in week 2 against Carolina put the entire NFL on notice.

And, Barrett continued to be a dominant pass rush force for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles the entire season. He ultimately broke Tampa Bay’s single season sack record held by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in the final game of the season. Barrett finished with 19.5 sacks, which led the NFL.

Now, the Bucs and Licht have to decide whether they’re going to give Barrett a massive contract or perhaps, entertained putting the “franchise tag” on him to ensure that he’s one of the top five paid defensive ends in football. If Licht and the Bucs choose to do that, Barrett will be making in the neighborhood of $18-20 million per year.

One concern for the Buccaneers is that Barrett’s breakout 2019 with the 19.5 sacks is more than he had in his previous five years in Denver combined. So, naturally, there is some skepticism that he will be able to produce at that high of a level for multiple years.

Still, it’s going to take that kind average per year deal to keep him from being available via free agency for someone else to sign. And, a further benefit to the franchise tag is at the Buccaneers could always reach a long-term agreement later this off season after tagging Barrett, too.

Now, we wait to see what Tampa Bay can get done.

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