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Three things to watch as Bucs travel take on Titans

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs and the Titans got to know each other over two days of practice this week and now, both are prepared to play in preseason game number two.

Here are three things we are looking at for tonight’s match-up.

Will Bucs receiving weapons have a big night?

Tampa Bay intends to start veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick for at least a couple of series and then, Jameis Winston will likely play the rest of the first half. And, the Buccaneer receivers are anxious for the chance to show what they can do in this second preseason game.

We wrote earlier this week about how Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin had a great practice on Wednesday against the Titans and specifically, going against former Pats Superbowl hero DB Malcom Butler.

Now, they get a chance to display that in a game.

Of course the Titans also have second year CB Adoree’ Jackson, who more than held his own against those guys above in practice action on Thursday.

How will it all translate tonight?

Titans One-Two Punch of Mariota and Henry

There aren’t many teams that can boast a pair of young talented Heisman Trophy winners in the same backfield like Tennessee can. QB Marcus Mariota and RB Derrick Henry however, have the hardware and are poised to lead the Titans bigger things in 2018.

Henry split time with now departed DeMarco Murray the last two years, but had 744 yards and five TD’s in 2017.

Mariota is as explosive a runner, as he is thrower, and has a new offensive system and coordinator this year, to.

And, the Mariota-Henry tandem already helped the Titans make the playoffs and pull an upset of the Chiefs in the Wildcard game last year.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has fortified their defensive line with Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Vinny Curry, etc. coming into the fold. And two excellent tackling linebackers are there in LaVonte David and Kwon Alexander. However, the Bucs front seven will have their hands full with the Titans backfield.

That also includes shifty pass catching RB Dion Lewis,who signed as a free agent from New England like Butler, and is expected to play a bunch Saturday night.

Get a look a young guys

From backup QB Ryan Griffin (above), who rallied the team with a last second FG drive last week, to rookies RB Ronald Jones, DB’s MJ Stewart and Carlton Davis and offensive lineman Alex Cappa, the Bucs have a chance to get some young guys some more live action.

Tampa Bay also has young reserve players from last year like LB Riley Bullough, CB Ryan Smith and OL Caleb Benenoch, who need some playing time, too.

So, it’s a night to get a good look at them under live fire in a preseason game and let the coaches evaluate them against a real opponent.

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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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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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